Decision 2018 – “Halftime Report” for Runoff Early Voting in Louisiana

We are now past the midway point for in person early voting for the December 8 runoff – four days’ worth of early voting are in the rear view mirror, with three more days (today/Thursday, Friday, and Saturday) to go. What has four days of early voting told us?

From minimal to low voter enthusiasm

Early voting started off with a whimper – the first day count of 14,811 was the lowest early voting turnout EVER. In person and mail volume have improved somewhat since then, however: 67,066 have early voted as of last night (54,026 in person, and 13,040 by mail). While this is still notably less than the 179,608 who early voted in the primary after four days, the 67K figure is now better than either last year’s Treasurer’s runoff (49,423 early voted) or the Treasurer’s primary (56,885 early voted). We are benchmarking the Secretary of State’s race against the Treasurer’s race for three reasons: (1) both are down-ballot races, (2) both are special election races, and (3) last year’s Treasurer’s race set new lows for abysmal voter turnout, with 14% (in the primary) and 13% (in the runoff).

Democrats curiously started off with a bang as well, although JMC believes that was a combination of several factors, including the fact that first day early voting was on a Saturday. Since then, the electorate has become more conservative (JMC has on this blog noted from personal observation that Democrats tend to vote both on weekends and at the last minute): the racial composition of the early vote has changed from 65-31% white/black to 69-28% white/black after four days. Similarly, the partisan composition of early voters has narrowed from 47-37% Democrat/Republican to 47-40% Democrat/Republican. In other words, the current numbers look like a more typical early voting electorate for Louisiana.

Yesterday’s top three early voting parishes were East Baton Rouge (7,878 early votes), St Tammany (4,781), and Orleans (4,024).

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 more than 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 opinion (based on four days of early voting) that while runoff turnout will be much less than in the primary, it now won’t be the worst turnout ever. More specifically:

  • Projected early/absentee vote: 114-141K (316K in the November primary)
  • Projected turnout volume: 382-706K (1519K in the November primary)
  • Projected turnout percentage: 13-24% (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.