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Artificial voting drop may get used for political purposes

Apparently there’s been a lot of jaw-flapping going on about the meaning of the 46 percent turnout in the governor’s contest, some four to five percent below the elections for that office in 2003, with Democrat politicians arguing it signals that politicians are failing to “inspire.” As a statement of what primarily caused the drop, that sentiment is utter tripe.

The primary reason is very simple – Orleans and St. Bernard Parishes and, to a lesser extent, Jefferson, have kept a number of people on the voting rolls who are not residents of their parishes because they left and haven’t returned from the 2005 hurricane disasters and, without extraordinary efforts being made by candidates, will not vote. Just look at the provisional figures recently released by the state – two of the three lowest turnouts of the highest-turnout contests in a parish were Orleans at 29.2 percent and St. Bernard at 37 percent; Madison got in just below at 36.3 percent. Jefferson was a few places higher at 42.8 percent.

But compare the 2003 numbers: among all but Orleans, St. Bernard, and Jefferson, the state had 1,096,733 of 2,244,867 vote, or 48.9 percent – less than 1.5 percent below the 2003 primary total. And that 1.5 percent may have been an artifact of two different things: first, lack of a hot parish-wide race on the ballot especially in populous parishes (in the ten highest turnouts, eight were registered by a sheriff’s or parish president’s race while only two came from the gubernatorial contest) and blacks (besides those displaced from Orleans) turning out in noticeably few numbers (for example, from what I could derive, black turnout dropped a couple of percent in Caddo Parish but the bottom fell out in East Baton Rouge, down about 10 percent).

It’s interesting that Republican politicians pointed to the storms or, as a longer-term cause of a decline in turnout, legal changes that produced more registered voters but disproportionately fewer who would turn out. The Democrats may blame candidates because they may perceive the reduced excitement in the black community.

However, the Democrats in blaming politicians may have a political motive behind it. By ignoring the impact of the hurricanes’ displacement, they can attempt to make the problem out to be bigger than it really is – a mathematical artifact of essentially inaccurate representations of reality. This could give impetus to efforts to dilute ballot security in an effort to crease turnout for its own sake, such as by the unnecessary and wasteful laws passed in the wake of the hurricanes that applied to the New Orleans city elections of 2006.

It also may be an attempt to try to reduce the legitimacy of Gov.-elect Bobby Jindal’s landslide win. The fewer people that voted, the more impetus it gives to trying to deny Jindal’s win wasn’t what it was – a mandate for reform and conservative agendas.

The fact is, when adjusted for true residency, 2007 primary was not much below that of 2003 and, if anything, discouraged Democrats (of whom blacks disproportionately label themselves) probably account for most of the remaining difference. This is neither a crisis requiring relaxation of laws protecting ballot security nor repudiates the historic message of the election.

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