Decision 2020 – “Halftime Report” of Louisiana Presidential Primary early voting

Normally, in person early voting in Louisiana is a one week event; because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Secretary of State has made several changes to its originally scheduled March 24 primary. One of those changes was moving the primary date back to July 11. The second was adding an extra week to in person early voting. Therefore, we are technically at the halfway point. What have we seen from seven days of in person early voting?

Unusually high turnout

To put this election cycle in proper context when comparing turnout to the 2016 Presidential primary, both Democrats and Republicans had contested Presidential races that year, and the eventual early vote was 100,192. For this year’s contest, it’s been known for over three months that Donald Trump will face Joe Biden. Yet as of last night, 114,669 early voted. To further underscore why this higher turnout is a big deal, in 40 parishes, Presidential/party committee races are literally the only thing on the parishwide ballot. In 16 more parishes, races covering less than the entire parish share the ballot with the Presidential race. That leaves just 8 parishes with parishwide races on the ballot competing for attention with the Presidential race. In other words, what’s just been described has all the makings of a “low energy” election cycle.

So what’s driving this higher early voting turnout? In person voting has been 69% of the volume of the 2016 Presidential primary (54,596 versus 79,425 in 2016), although even the 69% figure is respectable for a “low wattage” election cycle.

The volume of mail in ballots is a different matter. For the first day of the 2016 Presidential primary, 7,362 voted by mail, while this year it was 48,075. Since then, mail in voting has outpaced the 2016 daily numbers, although not to the same extent as on the first day: in 2016, 6,928 mail in ballots were tallied during early voting week; this year, 11,998 were. The cumulative total of 60,073 mail in ballots is still well ahead of the 14,290 mail in ballots after 7 days of in person early voting in 2016. Plus, that 60,073 total is just 2,943 shy of the all time record of 63,016 mail in votes cast for the 2016 Presidential election. Furthermore, the fact that 52% of the vote has been cast by mail so far is unprecedented after 7 days of early voting in any statewide election since 2008.

A (very) energized black vote

Given that (as of June 1), 31% of Louisiana’s registered voters are black, JMC typically expects the black percentage of the early vote to be about 30%, with anything above that indicating an energized black electorate. That number has to be modified for Presidential primaries, as this is the one time in Louisiana (whose Presidential primaries are closed) that party registration matters.

Therefore, the black electorate of just Democrats and Republicans is 34% of the total, and in the  2016 Presidential primary, blacks represented 33% of the early vote. This year, blacks have made up 35% of the early vote – yesterday alone, it was 47% of the total. In other words, there is obviously an elevated level of interest in the Presidential race from black voters for them to show up to vote in a primary that has been technically irrelevant since March.

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) a model that can be used to project early voting and/or final turnout, even considering that this predictive model got slightly more complex in 2017 with mail in ballots’ starting to be automatically being mailed out to those 65 years old or over.

For this election cycle (and likely for November as well), projecting turnout is even more complex, because (1) the pandemic has arguably “front loaded” voting even more – particularly with the surge of mail vote in voting, and (2) the existence of two weeks of early voting, instead of the usual week.

Nevertheless, with a week of early voting data now available, JMC has sufficient data to make some projections. Given that (1) the average in person voting volume in 2020 has been 7,800 per day, and (2) that volume has been running at 69% of the 2016 volume, JMC conservatively estimates that for the next week of early voting, daily in person volume will be 3,900/day – half the average 2020 volume of 7,800/day. In other words, about 23,000 more in person votes will be cast, bringing the total projected in person early votes to 78,000.

What about the projected mail in vote? Given that its average daily volume has been double that of the 2016 numbers at 2,000 per day (excluding, of course, the initial number of 48,100 mail in ballots), JMC will again pessimistically estimate that the average daily volume for the next two weeks will be cut in half and be about 1,000 per day. Which means there are an estimated additional 11,000 mail in ballots to come in, which would bring the estimated total to 71,000 mail in votes by Election Day. In other words, JMC projects an estimated final early vote of 149,000 (78,000 in person early voters and 71,000 mail ins).

What about final turnout? For the 2016 Presidential primary, turnout was as follows:

  • 640000 total turnout
  • 79400 in person votes (13% of the total vote)
  • 20800 mail in votes (3% of the total vote)
  • 539800 Election Day votes (84% of the total vote)

Given that JMC believes that the elevated early voting volume (which is being driven by more people voting by mail) is more of a “front loading” of eventual total turnout than in previous election cycles, he is more realistically projecting a final (reduced) total turnout of 500,000, broken out as follows

  • 500000 (or 22%) total turnout
  • 78000 in person votes (16% of the total vote)
  • 71000 mail in votes (14% of the total vote)
  • 351000 Election Day votes (70% of the total vote)

The mail in number is particularly important, because in a larger turnout Presidential race in November, that 14% could represent (assuming a turnout similar to 2016’s turnout of 2.05M) a projected mail in volume of 287,000. Which not only would be a record for Louisiana, but would represent a mail in volume 356% higher than 2016.