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Record Turnout in First Day of Early Voting in Gubernatorial Runoff

Jessica Rosgaard

More than 89,000 Louisianans cast their ballots on Saturday in the first day of early voting in the gubernatorial runoff, setting a new record for first day turnout.

GOP challenger Eddie Ripsone is vying to unseat Democratic incumbent John Bel Edwards, who is seeking a second term as governor of Louisiana.

Preliminary reports from the Secretary of State show that about 2,500 more votes were cast on Saturday than the first day of early voting in the 2016 presidential election-- the previous high-water mark-- and surpassing the first day turnout in last month's primary by more than 12,000 votes.

On this week's Capitol Access, pollster John Couvillon of JMC Analytics and Polling discusses the demographic breakdown of early voters and how it might impact the eventual results of the election.

Q: Let's start with that first number-- 89,623. That's about 12,000 more people than voted in the primary. Why the bump?

One of the things that we had noted in the beginning was that you had external events, more specifically the impeachment inquiry, which drove Republican turnout pretty high and stayed throughout out early voting.

Now that governor Edwards is in a runoff, I think there's much more of a motivation to get Democrats to go early vote. They succeeded. You had a much stronger democratic turnout this time around than in the primary. Republican numbers stayed relatively strong as well. Both contributed to two nights of record turnout.

Q: That was a big topic of discussion in the postmortem from the primary. There was some expectation that Edwards might be able to win the race outright [in the primary] with strong voter turnout. He didn't quite have that.

I think the problem was Gov. Edwards and his team were done in by their own unrealistic expectations. Because if you're a partisan Democrat and all you're hearing on the news and from the governor's people is that they expect to win in the primary-- and most of the polling did seem to confirm that conclusion-- there is much less motivation to go vote.

However, now that Edwards is in fact in a runoff, the Democratic Party apparatus is making a much more concerted effort to get a strong early vote out. That was not necessarily present in the primary because of those, in my opinion, flawed expectations set by the governor's campaign team.

Q: I know it's early to be making prediction on how this will affect overall turnout in the runoff, but we did see a significant bump in overall turnout in the primary compared to the 2015 gubernatorial primary.

Yes. It actually ended up being seven points [higher in this year's primary]. Final turnout, as certified by the Secretary of State, was 46%. I believe the turnout will go somewhat higher [in the runoff].

Even though early voting turnout was higher than it was in the presidential election, I'm certainly not expecting presidential level turnout, or 2 million voters to show up on November 16th. Instead, what I think is more likely, is that there is some front-loading. I think the runoff turnout percentage will be closer to 50% [of eligible voters] or about 1.5 million.

Q: So what do you think we're going to see as overall totals for early voting? It seems to be growing in popularity amongst Louisiana voters.

You have a generation of people, as they're entering the voting bloodstream, so to speak. They appreciate the convenience of early voting, and so early voting has steadily gained popularity. In the primary, a record 28% of the total was cast early. This time, I would not be surprised to see the total get into the 30-33% range. I think what's going to happen-- in addition to the 1.5 million turnout-- I think you're looking at easily 500,000 to 550,000 early voters, even counting the inevitable drop-off in turnout that occurs during the weekdays. Thus, you're looking at 30 to 33% of the vote will likely be cast this week.

Paul Braun was WRKF's Capitol Access reporter, from 2019 through 2023.