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Lower, but significant, Orleans turnout projected

It’s a good question, what will turnout be in the New Orleans’ municipal elections on Apr. 22? As my political science colleagues rightly point out, good luck on a good guess. But at least let’s try. As a starting point, consider that overall turnout for the primary election in 2002 was about 46 percent, with whites at about 50 percent, blacks at about 45 percent, and other races around 29 percent.

First, it’s unlikely to be where it was in 2002 (which is what might be implied by some pie-in-the-sky estimates). Using data I have much more confidence in – from my recently-presented paper to the Louisiana Political Science Association at its annual meeting – assuming only historical absentee ballot voting rates (using the 2002 proportion of just 1.625 percent of total ballot being absentee) and the most recent weekly statistics for Orleans, produces a rough figure of 58,023 voting (of which 57,095 will enter Orleans voting booths) of 298,091 registered, or a dismal 19.46 percent.

However, consider the rate of requests (from 500-1,000 per day) for absentee ballots, keeping in mind just 2,171 were cast in 2002. It would not be surprising to have 10 times that number eventually come in, given the rate of requests and, ordinarily, almost all would get cast. But this may not be the case in 2006 because of the presence of satellite voting centers; a number of requesters may end up trooping to one of these locations anyway. So let’s assume that ten times the previous figure, or 16.25 percent or 9,278 get cast absentee (in addition to the projected 57,095 on the ground in Orleans).

The real wild card is the presence at the satellite centers. The most sense Democrat Secretary of State Al Ater has made sense during his time in office, where he has appeared to act more partisan than impartial, has come when he argued the amount of money the state has spent on defending the itself over lawsuits incredibly arguing the state hasn’t done enough to create ballot access, “For the money they've spent on legal bills, and made me spend on legal bills, we could have sent a cab after all of them.” No doubt a number of organizations will spend considerable resources to provide transportation to these. With around 150,000 displaced Orleanians out there registered to vote (out of about 275,000 total), let’s be generous and double our assumption here, to say 32.5 percent of on-the-ground turnout will be by satellite locations, or 18,556.

(Note that with these estimates, assuming all absentee ballot come from displaced people, that over 6 percent and over 12 percent of all displaced people would be voting absentee and through satellite centers, respectively. By historical absentee standards, these are rather optimistic.)

That gives a total of 84,929, or a turnout of 28.49 percent. Using historical figures, votes on the ground in Orleans will have blacks just below an absolute majority, but taking the secretary of state’s office’s 70 percent figure of absentee ballot requests coming from blacks and also applying it to satellite voters, blacks will represent about 55 percent of the total voters in this election, as opposed to 61.6 percent of the electorate in 2002. As for the general election four weeks later, totals should be around these, perhaps a little higher.

Were this how the scenarios play out, it hard to argue anything would be unfair about these elections. But if a black candidate doesn’t win by May 20, look for some interest groups to make exactly this claim even if these numbers are realized.

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