SADOW: The Early-Vote Numbers In Louisiana Signal Major Change

Early voting in Louisiana tells a tale of disproportionately fewer black voters participating, presaging the total vote – but not that it will make much difference in most final outcomes.

When considering these early totals for the period that ended earlier this week, the state hit an all-time high for midterm elections (early voting became available in 2008) at just over 12 percent. Some notable aspects stand out.

First of all, when looking at statewide numbers historically, contrary to popular folklore asserting that blacks vote disproportionately early compared to whites, in Louisiana at least there has been no difference with race. The ratio of white/black turnout percentages of their total registrations voting early from 2008-2020 average was 1.14. The same computation for total voting (early plus election day) over that period was virtually identical, so both races voted in roughly the same proportions early to election day. However, this masks a trend that perhaps fueled the popular perception; even as blacks voted early at a higher proportion from 2008-14, since then whites have as well. So, a continuation of this more recent trend wouldn’t be a big surprise.

Remarkable, however, is that the 2022 ratio was 1.37, way above the historical norm and second-highest ever. Keep in mind while the averages of early and total proportionally are the same, this hides some variability: early proportions have gone to more extremes, producing some countering in the opposite direction in election day voting. Thus, on election day there may be some catchup with disproportionally more blacks voting than whites, but it is unlikely to dilute the ratio much. All told, expect blacks disproportionately to sit this one out.

That makes sense. With prominent elections uncompetitive across the state and only a few isolated ones with competitive intraparty conflict – Shreveport and Hammond mayoral elections and the Senate District 17 contest, essentially – combined with the fact the party to which they overwhelmingly register for and vote has performed nationally disappointingly, with a stagnant economy, the highest base interest rates in almost 15 years, the highest inflation in four decades, declining relative wages, and elevated crime over the past few years, yet also disproportionately unwilling to vote for Republicans, they respond by disproportionately not showing up.

This deferral is reflected in partisan comparisons. By party (Democrat/Republican), the numbers of proportional early voting historically produce an average of 0.84; every election Republicans have disproportionately voted early compared to democrats. For total voting, that edges up to 0.88, meaning Democrats eventually catch up a bit.

2022 early voting ended with a ratio of 0.81, lower due to black reluctance as they comprise 60 percent of the party’s registrants. Standing out more is the raw numbers, which is a function of vast GOP registration gains at the expense of Democrats; the former is up 8 percentage points since 2008 and the latter down 13 percentage points or around a gain of 270,000 and a loss of 330,000, respectively. This explains why for the first time ever total GOP early voting exceeded, just, that of Democrats (they felt just short in 2010). And, if past results carry forward, any catchup through election day will be attenuated by blacks disproportionately desisting

Advantage, Republicans – but it hardly will matter, given the state of competitiveness of contests far and wide. In fact, it may have consequences – assuming the statewide trend is reflected in matters below statewide level, which may not be the case – only in the outcome of one semi-high-profile contest, the SD 17 race where that helps to assure a runoff between Democrat state Rep. Jeremy LaCombe and a Republican, likely Caleb Kleinpeter.

Racial differences, however, might matter in a couple of other contests. For Senate District 5, this could boost the chances of white Democrat state Rep. Mandie Landry against black Democrat state Rep. Royce Duplessis, given the historical tendency for blacks to vote almost unanimously for black candidates when opposed by a white one and that the district has a slight white registration plurality.

And while that won’t change the results of the U.S. Senate contest that incumbent GOP Sen. John Kennedy will win without a runoff, it could give a cheer to the white Democrat powerbrokers who run the state party both in party office and state elected office. To help maintain their grasp on power of the majority-black party, they need for the white Democrat that they have rallied deep-pocketed mainly white special interests to back, Luke Mixon, to finish better than the two major black candidates combined, Gary Chambers and Syrita Steib. Blacks disproportionately sitting it out will help to achieve that.

So, while early voting this cycle hardly adds to forecasting eventual outcomes, it may give clues as to how race impacts internal struggles among Democrats.

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