Early voting finished last night (mail in absentees can still be accepted up to the day before Election Day), and it was a record breaker in several ways. What did early voting this year tell us?
Strong turnout/Newton’s Third Law
As of last night, a record 307,237 have either early voted by person or by mail in ballot (271,181 in person, and 36,056 mail in ballots). To put this number in perspective, this is the highest early voting turnout EVER for a non-Presidential election, and this figure even surpassed the 292,213 who early/absentee voted in the 2008 Presidential election (which at that time was a record). In fact, only twice has there been a higher early/absentee voting turnout: the 2016 Presidential election (531,555 early votes) and the 2012 Presidential election (356,603 early votes).
What is especially impressive about this 307K figure is that the only top of the statewide ballot race is a special election for Secretary of State, while relatively uncontested Congressional races (and local races as well) are “filling in the blanks” in the first midterm election since 2006 not to have a US Senate race on the ballot.
Why has turnout been so high ? JMC believes that reports of strong early voting across the country (and, to some extent, energized conservatives after the Kavanaugh hearings) have been picked up on the radar of Louisiana voters, and as a result, Louisianians were aware that there is an election here, even though at the Congressional level, there are no seriously contested races from the standpoint of partisan control of the entire Congress. That sentiment was the narrative for a strong conservative tilt to early voting for the first four days of in person early voting.
The fifth day of early voting, however, is on a Saturday, and traditionally, blacks/Democrats tend to show up more on that day. It has also been JMC’s experience that blacks/Democrats also tend to vote near the end of the early voting period, which in fact was what happened for Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday. This pattern also was apparent in both the 2014 and 2016 elections (i.e., the last two times Louisiana had Tuesday elections).
It could also be argued that while typical patterns of early voting produced a stronger Democratic early vote in the last three days, a variation of “Newton’s Third Law” (for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction) was applicable as well.
In other words, just as conservatives were energized by external events (Kavanaugh hearings and reports of robust early voting across the country), local reports of high early voting turnout were played up in the news media, and arguably put the election on the Democrats’ radar as well.
The top three early voting parishes were East Baton Rouge (29,669 early/absentee votes), Orleans (28,173), and St Tammany (25,818).
Late Democratic vote
After the first day of early voting, the racial composition of the early voters was 73-25% white/black and 46-40% Democrat/Republican, which JMC considered relatively mild for blacks/Democrats. From Wednesday-Friday, there was a continued conservative tilt to early voting, with a 72-25% white/black and 43-41% Democrat/Republican racial/partisan composition. That pattern abruptly changed on Saturday and continued until the end of early voting, with a 63-33% white/black and a 48-36% Democratic/Republican early vote – not only is Saturday a day when Democrats typically like to vote (as JMC noted in the previous posting), but the composition of the Monday/Tuesday early/absentee voters was consistently more Democratic as well.
JMC’s projections of early voting volume, overall turnout
Projecting turnout is a constantly moving target throughout early voting week, but since early voting has been in existence in Louisiana for a decade, JMC has established (and continuously refined) benchmarks that can be used to project early voting and/or final turnout, even considering that this predictive model got slightly more complex last year with mail in ballots’ starting to be automatically being mailed out to those 65 years old or over who opted to be on this list.
Given the above, as well as the fact that early voting shattered records this election cycle, below are JMC’s turnout projections. These projections also consider the fact that an estimated 5-10K absentee ballots have yet to be mailed in and tallied before next Monday’s deadline:
- Projected final early/absentee vote: 315K
- Projected turnout volume: 1050K
- Projected turnout percentage: 35%
- Projected percent of the early/absentee vote as a percentage of the total vote: 30%
Why does early voting matter? When the Legislature essentially established “no fault” early voting more than a decade ago, you now have a noticeable (and increasing) constituency of people who prefer the convenience of early voting, and this constituency has for six times in a row (the 2015 primary, 2015 runoff, 2016 Presidential elections, December 2016 runoff, October 2017 primary, and November 2017 runoff) exceeded 20%. Politicians and political consultants would be foolish to ignore this many “up front” voters, especially in a closely contested race. Also, too, early voting numbers are the first ones that are typically reported after polls have closed at 8 PM.