2021 Early Voting Analysis: Low Turnout, More Postal Ballots, and Election Day Expectations

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Early voting is over for the November 13 election, and despite the lack of enthusiasm generated by the races themselves, postal voting continues to be a popular option during the pandemic.

This fall’s election slate includes New Orleans mayor and city council races, a handful of special state legislative races, and a host of local tax measures. The only things that will show up on ballots statewide are four proposals for substantial, though flawed, constitutional amendments that could reshape the way the state collects sales taxes, assesses personal income taxes. individuals and corporations, funds local boards of directors and manages future budget deficits.

John Couvillon, founder of JMC Analytics and Polling, said the most fitting comparison is the 2017 election cycle, which included a hotly contested New Orleans municipal election, a special election for state treasurer, and nothing other to arouse the enthusiasm of the voters.

About 14.7% of registered voters participated in this fall’s election, and 92,000 Louisiana voters cast their ballots early.

This year, nearly 140,000 voters have already voted, a 50% increase from the total of the first in-person and mail-in votes in 2017. And although Louisianans won’t know what’s in those ballots before election night on Saturday 13 November. Couvillon said that a lot can be learned from early voting statistics by looking at who voted, where they voted and how they voted.

One of the big takeaways is that postal voting continues to gain popularity after an increase in demand for postal ballots in last fall’s presidential election. Couvillon attributes the COVID-19 pandemic to accelerating what he calls a “culture shift” around voting habits.

Last fall, an unprecedented number of voters over 65 took advantage of a voting option that has been available for years and registered to automatically receive a mail-in ballot for this election, and all subsequent elections. for the rest of their lives. .

” This augmentation [in early voting] is almost entirely an increase in postal voting, ”Couvillon said. “Early in-person voting increased by around 7%, while postal voting almost tripled between 2017 and 2021.”

But while a larger share of the votes may be cast early by mail, Couvillon suspects the change will only lead to a minor increase in overall turnout in what he described as a low-energy election. He expects the increase in the volume of these mail-in ballots to push the overall turnout slightly to around 16% of all registered voters.

The fact that this fall’s most high-profile election takes place in the Democratic stronghold of Orleans Parish has led supporters of Louisiana politics to speculate on how a comparatively higher turnout might affect contests for the election. statewide, especially the four proposed constitutional amendments for voters to consider this fall. .

In 2017, Orleans Parish voters made up nearly 20% of all votes cast in the October 14 election, which included the New Orleans mayor and city council races. Last fall, when voters across the state were eager to vote in the presidential election, voters in Orléans Parish accounted for just 8% of all votes cast.

New Orleans Mayor Latoya Cantrell, who is running for re-election, spoke strongly against Amendment 1, which would pave the way for centralized sales tax collection in the state and allow a new state commission to set up and oversee the system.

Cantrell criticized the initiative, saying it would give Baton Rouge policymakers control over the sales tax money the city relies on for more than 30% of its operating budget. She argues that under the new system, those dollars could be delayed at the whim of a panel that’s more likely to be aligned with the Republican-controlled state legislature than New Town. -Orléans controlled by the Democrats.

But Couvillon said the turnout in Orléans Parish would have to be considerably higher on election day than it was in the early vote for Cantrell’s opposition to affect the outcome of that race.

Orléans parish voters make up about 16% of the votes cast in person and by mail so far – a percentage point lower than their share of early votes in 2017. And Orléans parish voters do. are not a monolithic group, especially when it comes to the mayor. Cantrell and the issues she defends.

“Yes [Cantrell’s] Staking her claim on an amendment, I don’t think she would influence 80% to 90% of the voters in Orléans parish – maybe more than 55% to 60%, ”Couvillon said. “But besides the 55% to 60% she could get in the Orleans parish, that could be a negative weight in places like Jefferson, St. Bernard and St. Tammany.”

Couvillon also said the first votes from the parish of Calcasieu showed a lack of Democratic enthusiasm in the race to replace State Senator Ronnie Johns, a moderate Republican who was a frequent ally of Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards in the legislature. of State.

The contest is one of three special state legislative races this fall and the only legislative race featuring a showdown between Democratic and Republican candidates. The other two races are for secure Democratic seats in the Louisiana House of Representatives. Voters in the 102nd West Bank district will choose a replacement for Gary Carter, who recently moved to the state Senate, and voters in Monroe will choose a replacement for Frederick Jones.

Johns ended his 25-year term in the state legislature after Edwards appointed him chairman of the state gaming control board. The appointment came just days after Johns controversially missed a landmark veto session in which Republican legislative leaders sought to override Edwards’ vetoes on two of their top legislative priorities in the Regular Session of 2021.

The race in the former Johns District gives Democrats the opportunity to reduce the Republican majority in the state Senate. Edwards openly supported Democratic candidate in the race, Dustin Granger, but early voting statistics show Democrats had only a slight advantage in the number of early votes cast in the parish of Calcasieu. Couvillon said he was surprised, given the high stakes and the state’s Democratic Party focus on this race.

“The turnout was quite low,” Couvillon said of the legislative race in the parish of Calcasieu. “Democrats generally do better when it comes to the pre-election vote, and I would have expected more Democratic enthusiasm.”

Advance votes by mail will continue to arrive at local voter offices until 4:00 p.m. Friday. The final ballots for the Nov. 13 election will be cast when voters go to the polls on Saturday.

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