Heavy Early Voting Turnout in Louisiana Gubernatorial Runoff Election

Eddie Rispone, left, responds to a question as Gov. John Bel Edwards, center, and Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham, right, watch as they participate in the first televised gubernatorial debate Thursday Sept. 19, 2019, in Baton Rouge, La. (Bill Feig/The Advocate via AP, Pool)
Bill Feig/The Advocate via AP, Pool

Heavy turnout marked early voting in the Louisiana gubernatorial runoff election, which ended on Saturday.

The runoff election between incumbent Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards and Republican challenger Eddie Rispone will be held next Saturday, November 16.

Edwards was forced into a runoff when he finished below the 50 percent mark in the October 12 “jungle primary” election, setting up the runoff with second-place finisher Rispone.

The most recent polls show the race to be a statistical tie.

An analysis of early voting results conducted by Louisiana-based JMC Analytics suggests that both Democrats and Republicans are energized by the contest:

489,649 Louisianians either early voted by person or by mail in ballot (451,171 in person, and 38,478 mail in ballots). To put this number in perspective, this is the highest early voting turnout EVER for a non-Presidential election. Not only did it exceed the volume of in person early voting for the primary by 31% (or 115,459), but it was 91% (or 232,628) higher than day in person early voting for the 2015 runoff. The top five (by early voting volume) early voting parishes were East Baton Rouge (58,249 early/absentee votes), Orleans (39,260), St. Tammany (35,097), Jefferson (31,523), and Ouachita (20,854).

Whatever the turnout levels are from election cycle to election cycle, black voters (who are almost unanimously Democratic) tend to show up in greater numbers on the last day. But very rarely do they turn out to the extent that they did yesterday: a whopping 40% of the last day early voters were black (blacks represent 31% of Louisiana’s registered voters). As further illustration of how unprecedented black participation this strong is, in the 116 days of available data for in person early voting going all the way back to 2008, only four other times has the black early vote as a percentage of the total vote ever hit 40% (and three of those times were in 2008, when Barack Obama was first elected).

This 40% black electorate was in addition to stronger (relative to the primary) black early voting for the previous six days which never dropped below 29%. This means that the final early vote is 31% black – a figure 6% higher (percentage-wise) than in the primary and 1% higher than in the 2015 runoff.

“What all of this analysis means in practical terms,” JMC Analytics concludes, “is that because of (1) the decrease in white Democrats/white Independents and (2) the relatively high Republican early vote, an Edwards poll lead of 50-47% over Rispone would become 50-46% Edwards/Rispone if the poll results were recalculated to reflect the demographic composition of the early vote.”

The heavy turnout on both sides suggests that the outcome of Saturday’s contest remains in doubt.

One unusual aspect of the race has been Edwards’ attempt to associate himself with the very popular #2-ranked LSU football team, which beat long-time rival, #3 ranked Alabama, on Saturday, 46 to 41.

As Breitbart News reported, LSU’s head football coach, Ed Orgeron, the highest-paid employee in Louisiana’s state government, endorsed Edwards’ reelection bid in April. Many Republicans have roundly criticized that endorsement as inappropriate.

Last week, before the big game with Alabama, Edwards visited with the team and gave them a pep talk, which his campaign promoted on social media.

LSU’s victory over Alabama generated huge levels of enthusiasm for the team and pride in the state among football-crazy voters. It is unclear if Edwards’ attempt to associate with the popular team will generate much, if any, bump for his candidacy in Saturday’s election. But in a race that remains a statistical tie one week out, both candidates are pursuing any possible edge they can get to win the election.

As for the GOP’s Rispone, President Trump’s rally in Monroe, Louisiana, last week in a state he easily won in 2016 has clearly aligned the self-made businessman from Baton Rouge with the president. Trump’s support may be the edge that puts him over the top next Saturday.

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