Decision 2018 – First day of Runoff Early Voting in Louisiana

In person early voting started yesterday for the December 8 runoff. The special election runoff for Secretary of State is at the top of the ballot (all Congressional races were settled in November without the need for a runoff), with various runoff races (a state representative race in Slidell,  School Board races, tax issues, and the like) on the ballot. In person early voting continues until Saturday, December 1.

Minimal voter enthusiasm

Given that (by and large) there are “lower wattage” races on the ballot (not to mention an election being held during the Holiday season), it was a given that turnout would be lower than in the primary. But the extent of yesterday’s drop in voter turnout relative to the first day of primary early voting shows that voters aren’t engaged at all.

In fact, ever since JMC started tracking early voting in 2008, this is the lowest first day early voting turnout EVER, with 14,811 voting (12,444 were in person, and 2,367 were mail in ballots). For comparison’s sake, the next lowest first day turnout was 16,357, which occurred during last year’s Treasurer’s runoff.

What was interesting about yesterday’s turnout was that despite the very low volume, black turnout was relatively high: 65-31% white/black and 47-37% Democrat/Republican – in fact, only four other times in the last decade has black voter turnout as a percentage of the entire early vote on the first day ever exceeded 30%, and one of those times was the 2008 Presidential election, with Barack Obama on the ballot.

However, it’s also important to put yesterday’s abysmal early voting volume in proper context. For one thing, Saturday (in JMC’s experience) is a day of the week when Democrats typically maximize their early voting turnout. And with the first day of early voting being over the Thanksgiving holidays (with an LSU game in College Station, Texas), it’s likely that a substantial number of potential voters were simply not available to vote yesterday. Still, those first day numbers show voter turnout will be substantially less than the impressive 69,035 who early/absentee voted on the first day for the November primary.

There is a third reason turnout was so low: mail in ballots appeared to be more “front loaded” for the primary than in the runoff: while in person early voting dropped 69% relative to the primary, mail in balloting was 92% lower. A similar dynamic was at play in the 2017 Treasurer’s race, where 68% of the total volume of mail in ballots was counted by the first day of the primary, while only 27% were counted by the first day of the runoff.

Yesterday’s top three early voting parishes were East Baton Rouge (2,093 early votes), St Tammany (987), and Orleans (846).

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.

In this case, JMC is of the initial opinion that runoff turnout will be much less than in the primary. More specifically:

  • Projected early/absentee vote: 75-102K (316K in the November primary)
  • Projected turnout volume: 251-511K (1519K in the November primary)
  • Projected turnout percentage: 8-17% (51% in the November primary)

In Conclusion

Why does early voting matter? When the Legislature essentially established “no fault” early voting a decade ago, you now have a noticeable constituency of people who prefer the convenience of early voting, and this constituency has for seven times in a row (the 2015 primary, 2015 runoff, 2016 Presidential elections, December 2016 runoff, October 2017 primary, November 2017 runoff, and November 2018 primary) exceeded 20% – it was 21% in the November primary. A politician 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.