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Consequences of increased LA early turnout

If it’s October except for years after the presidential election, it’s time to debate the meaning of early voting again.

Louisiana saw a record midterm election year turnout this year in the decade of early voting’s existence. In fact, the total of 307,237 only fell about 50,000 short of the 2012 cycle, although the 2016 cycle surpassed that by almost 75 percent.

At first glance, this may seem remarkable, considering that the 2018 cycle features the least exciting passel of contests in a long time. As occurs every six even-numbered years, it has no Senate race, and none of the House of Representatives faceoffs hold any drama as all incumbents seem poised to win handily. The only statewide contest, for secretary of state, shouldn’t generate much enthusiasm for the least glamorous office in state government. Four of the five highest-populated parishes have school board races, but none feature parish contests and only one major city, Shreveport, has municipal races.

By contrast, 2014 had one of the most watched Senate races in the country and a couple of competitive House matchups. And 2015, which this year’s turnout outmatched by over 70,000, had a hotly-debated gubernatorial race, all minor executive posts up for grabs that produced some turnover, all state legislative seats up for grabs, and had almost all parish government posts on offer.

Yet about 10 percent of the electorate cast ballots prior to next Tuesday. This high-water mark follows a national trend – but surprisingly, as this cycle Louisiana has perhaps the least competitive and exciting electoral environment of all the states, where those feature elements that Louisiana doesn’t have of regular statewide elections and/or Senate seats. Excitement can explain that elsewhere, but, if that also applies to Louisiana, this doesn’t come as a result of candidates and campaigns.

This leads to other hypotheses, with the first congruent with Occam’s Razor: as time passes with the institutionalization of early voting on demand, more people become comfortable with it and exercise the opportunity instead of waiting. This means the extrapolation of the early rate in a monotonic fashion likely overestimates overall turnout, as early voting, in a sense, cannibalizes turnout on election day itself.

However, even if this phenomenon exists, with such markedly higher totals registered, chances are this partially will reflect greater overall turnout within the week. Given the constraints of the state’s registration data collected, following generally known political behavior patterns, early voting disproportionately attracts more likely voters, which demographically means Republicans. Also, as whites typically have higher levels of educational attainment, they also outpace blacks relatively in early voting. Relative changes over four years could indicate which candidates may do better or worse on election day.

With a secretary of state contest almost certainly to end as a Republican-Democrat runoff with the former triumphing, the highest-profile contest would be Shreveport mayor. An absence of independent polling makes for hazardous prognosticating, but intrigue has swirled that two black Democrats could end up in a runoff.

The proportion of whites of all voters casting early in Caddo Parish is almost exactly as it was in 2014, about 53.5 percent, but blacks fell 0.6 percent to 43 percent.  Concerning the major parties, Democrats edged down 0.7 percent from 2014 to 54 percent, as did Republicans a half point from 34.5.

Keep in mind that these are parish, not city statistics (which also include a small silver of Bossier Parish), and that the white/black split in the parish is 49.4-46.4 while in the city it’s 41.7-54.0. Further, the split between major parties in the parish is Democrats 48 and Republicans 27.7, while in the city it’s 52.4-21.9. Further, in 2014 the breakdown by race in the city was 42.6-53.3 and by party 53.3-23.7.

Thus, while possibly the relatively higher GOP and white early turnout could be an artifact of voters outside the city disproportionately participating, that seems unlikely without the stimulus of city elections in addition to school board and others. Accentuating the trend is that both white and GOP registrations fell more proportionally from 2014. Therefore, if this pattern holds for the entire time span of 2018 voting, this would increase the likelihood of a Democrat/Republican Shreveport mayoral runoff.

But as to the larger question of what could boost Louisiana early voting beyond just greater familiarity with the process in a year with apparently less stimulation to turn out, partisan conflict around Republican Pres. Donald Trump and his actions seems to explain it. That’s discouraging in a sense.

Even as many observers lament about relatively low U.S. election turnouts, that it appears to have taken extreme and unhelpful histrionics by Democrats over things such a Supreme Court nomination, and the subsequent distastefulness Republicans experienced consequent to such behavior, to get more people to election precincts isn’t a good thing. If that hysterical behavior really is the key to stoking election interest, that invites a pessimistic view of the American political system going forward.

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