Decision 2020 – Last Day of Louisiana Presidential Primary early voting

In person early voting for the July 11 primary (originally scheduled for March 24, but the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic pushed the date back twice) has concluded. Even though mail in ballots can still be accepted up to Friday (overseas and military ballots will be accepted up to next Saturday), some impressive numbers have been posted over the two weeks of early voting. What do the numbers tell us, and what are the implications for the November Presidential election?

Unusually high turnout

The 2016 Presidential primary election in Louisiana was a spirited contest both on the Democratic and Republican sides, and 100,192 early voted (79,425 in person, and another 20,767 by mail). However, turnout for this election cycle has remained heavy throughout the two week period: in person early voting averaged 7800/day in the first week, then increased to 8100/day during the “overtime” week. This is a big deal when you consider that: (1) it’s been known for over three months that Donald Trump will face Joe Biden, (2) only 8 parishes have any other parish wide races competing for attention with the Presidential race. In other words, the high early voting turnout this year doesn’t make sense without appreciating that there is an organic (high) level of interest in the Presidential contest. Incidentally, the 103,071 in person vote was 30% higher than the in person vote for the 2016 Presidential primary.

The extraordinarily high (and record setting) mail in volume further confirms the early signs of high interest in the Presidential election: for the 2016 Presidential primary, 20,767 voted by mail, while 63,016 did in the 2016 Presidential election (the latter figure was at the tome a record mail in volume). As of last night, 76,716 voted by mail. And while the record mail volume has been impressive, the steadiness of the volume is also worth noticing: after an initial accumulated surge of 48,075 mail in ballots reported on the first day, an average of 2,000 ballots per day was turned in in the first week of early voting, while in “overtime”, that number increased to 2,800 mail in ballots per day. In other words, mail in volume has remained strong even with the extra time to vote. And mail in ballots can still be accepted until the end of the week. In addition to the record mail volume, Louisiana has never before had 43% of its total early vote cast by mail – and as absentee ballots come in throughout the upcoming week, that percentage will only increase.

A (very) energized black vote

Given that (as of July 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 made up 35% of the early vote in the first week, and that cumulative percentage notched up again to a record 37.5%. Furthermore, yesterday’s early voting saw more blacks than whites vote early. This is unprecedented, especially considering that this is largely an irrelevant primary cycle.

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 two weeks of early voting data (which represents nearly all of the eventual early vote) now available, JMC has sufficient data to make some projections. As of last night, 179,787 have early voted (103,071 in person and 76,716 by mail). JMC estimates another 6,000 mail in votes have yet to be turned in, which would bring up the total early vote to 186,000.

What does the early vote mean for final projected July 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
  • 103000 in person votes (21% of the total vote)
  • 83000 mail in votes (17% of the total vote)
  • 314000 Election Day votes (62% of the total vote)

The mail in percentage is particularly important, because in a larger turnout Presidential race in November, that 17% could represent (assuming total turnout similar to 2016’s turnout of 2.05M) a projected mail in volume as high as 348,000. Which not only would be a record for Louisiana, but would represent a mail in volume 470% higher than 2016.

November implications

We’ve seen the following so far throughout the early voting cycle: (1) elevated turnout, (2) record setting mail in balloting, and (3) elevated black/Democratic turnout. Of these items, two have a direct bearing on the November election:

Elevated black turnout: In a general election cycle, all voters will be casting ballots (for July, the closed primary meant that in many parishes, Independents by and large didn’t vote). Plus, President Trump’s popularity hasn’t suffered much in this state, so it’s very unlikely Joe Biden would win its electoral votes in November. Still, an elevated black turnout could potentially make the differences in states Trump carried by 5% or less that have a statistically significant black population (Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin).

Mail in balloting: The tallying of mail in ballots is more of a manual process, which means they take longer to count. Given the surge in mail in voting that has occurred in Louisiana and many other states this primary cycle, it’s entirely possible for multiple states not to be called on Election Night if their vote is close enough to where the untallied mail in ballots could swing the state one way or another.