Rescheduling of Louisiana’s 2021 general election date will help certain candidates but especially hurt the chances of a couple of constitutional amendments on the ballot.
Last week, Republican Sec. of State Kyle Ardoin initiated and Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards completed the process of kicking back Oct. 9 elections to Nov. 13, and any runoffs needed from Nov. 13 to Dec. 11, due to the impact of Hurricane Ida. That move became even more necessary with the pile-on of Hurricane Nicolas, with the storms wrecking some polling places, displacing voters temporarily, and perhaps even delaying past the original date the restoration of power at some precincts.
To some degree, Louisiana elections in year after a presidential election retain some participation fragility. Without high profile state or national contests on the fall ballot compared to all other years in the quadrennial cycle, turnout tends on the low side. As a point of reference, the typical October general election in the 21st century has drawn, working backwards from 2017, 14.27, 13.22, 10.88, 13.2, and 21 percent of the electorate.
The November runoff numbers have turned out even more dismal. From 2017 into the past, these have had 12.98, 12.19, 16.92, 11.6, and 12.3 percent of voters showing up. Keep in mind that only 2017 had the entire state involved through constitutional amendments and a special election for treasurer in October and the treasurer runoff in November, and that only in 2009 did the later date have higher turnout, for no obvious reason. As well, 2017 featured for the first time fall New Orleans municipal contests.
Thus, one effect of the change likely reduces turnout, perhaps as the holiday season approaches. In part, the decline probably occurs due to the nature of the items on the ballot – typically no propositions and fewer contests for the latter. Still, the later date almost certainly has a small impact.
This helps candidates with resources and hurts propositions. More resource-laden candidates can keep the ball rolling, and the change particularly hurts those who tried to front-load spending to build an early advantage calculated to make it hard for others to catch up. Frontrunners now face the threat of running out of gas over the additional five weeks and the extra time creates opportunities for something to happen that allows a languishing candidate to catch fire.
And if making a runoff, candidates with notably more passionate supporters for them will have an advantage. This happens as December runoff elections, as sometimes witnessed in even-numbered years for federal offices, have even still lower turnouts.
Turnout change especially matters for propositions, most critically for the four statewide measures, two of which on first reading to voters – which for a significant portion will be its only reading – seem complex. Ballot items fall into two categories: those involving government actions that directly benefit a relatively small but significant portion of the jurisdiction, almost always involving local governments such as with tax increases or renewals going to fund activities if not salaries of employees, and everything else. Turnout differentials affect each differently.
In the former case, lower turnout increases chances of passage. Because the direct government beneficiaries stand to gain, that group turns out not only in high numbers but overwhelmingly for the measure regardless of when it is on the ballot. As the number of all other voters declines, so do the chances that the measure loses.
In the latter case, lower turnout decreases chances of passage. Chronic voters fall into two categories, the well-informed that make them chronic to the polls and those there out of a sense of civic duty only, who are more likely to vote against such things because they tend to prefer the devil they know, and as with voters directly affected in the former case the lower the turnout, the higher this segment of the electorate ends up comprising of the whole. Additionally, casual voters sucked in for elected office contests encounter these often ignorant of their content and implications, but many feel compelled to vote anyway, and in not knowing anything about these they take the safe route by voting against.
This creates particular problems for Amendments #2 and #4 with chronic voters. #2 acts as the linchpin for fiscal changes that lowers marginal state income tax rates and allows a law to kick in dropping the deduction for federal income tax, but is cleverly worded to emphasize the first alteration while obscuring the second, so the delay might not prove costly. But the class of taxpayer who will see higher taxes as a result will turn out regardless of the date, and so the decline in all others because of the later date could spell trouble for this one. Then with #4, which allows greater use of dedicated funds in times of budget deficit, the item’s wording implies more potential spending cuts, which may alarm the inattentive chronic voters who will comprise a larger proportion of total voters the later in the year an election occurs.
The date change puts yet another dynamic into play for Louisiana’s fall elections, one to which successful campaigners must adapt.