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More Louisianans Are Casting Their Ballots Early, By Mail Amid Coronavirus

Jessica Rosgaard

After three months of delays, Louisiana's presidential primary election is underway. It's coming in the midst of a resurgence of the coronavirus and public reckoning around racial inequity.

John Couvillion is the founder of JMC Analytics and has been closely monitoring early voting. He spoke with reporter Paul Braun Wednesday.

Paul Braun: So let's just start with a quick recap of how the process for this year's presidential primary is different than years past.

John Couvillion: So what has happened in the wake of the coronavirus, there have been several changes that have been recommended by the Secretary of State with the legislature agreed to. So in-person early voting is normally a week at this time. It was expanded to two weeks for the July primary. There was also an expanded list of acceptable reasons to vote by mail, which, of course, sparked a greater volume of mail-in ballots. You have not just increased volume brought about by those changes, but in my opinion, an increased volume brought about by an organic level of interest in the presidential race. Because in 40 of our 64 parishes, literally the only thing on the ballot is the presidential race and then the party executive committee. In other words, not much that you stereotypically would think would drive people to the polls by themselves.

Yeah. Let's dig into those early voting numbers a little bit. Early voting in person wrapped up on July 4th. What are some of the things that stood out from those numbers?

Interest in this election has not waned at all, despite the fact that, number one, we had an extra week of in-person early voting, and number two, absentee ballots are still being accepted. One-hundred and eighty-six thousand people have voted before Election Day. One-hundred and three thousand of those were in-person votes, which, that's already about 30,000 greater than it was for the 2016 presidential race. And then for the mail-in voting, it's up to 83,000, which not only is four times the volume of the 2016 presidential primary but that 83,000 is an all-time record in terms of the number of people who voted by mail breaking a record set by the 2016 presidential race of about 60,000.

And this is all very striking because we've known for months now that Joe Biden would be the Democratic nominee and that President Trump would be the Republican nominee. Given this increase in early voting, in-person ahead of time and through absentee ballots, what do you expect to see when people head to the polls on Saturday? And how might the coronavirus play into turnout on the actual election day?

So in my opinion, this increased turn out that you've had for what really is a low energy election cycle, some of that, I think there's a front-loading of the vote that would have occurred anyway on Saturday. And an example of that is the fact that because of the twice-delayed primary election, the first day of early voting, we already had 48,000 mail-in ballots waiting for us. So some of it is front loading. But I think that there's also a generic level of interest in this presidential contest, despite the fact that everybody has known for about four months who the contestants would be.

And we also saw a big increase in turnout among the black community, a segment of the population that's generally aligned with Democratic presidential candidates. That doesn't bode well for President Trump, but at the same time, nobody is really expecting Joe Biden to upset President Trump here in Louisiana in November. So what do these numbers really mean for the presidential contest?

You're correct and that there is almost zero implication for the Louisiana elections this fall, because I would expect Senator [Bill] Cassidy to be reelected fairly easily. I would expect the incumbent Republicans to win fairly easily. And I would expect Donald Trump to carry the state fairly comfortably, although I think there'll be a somewhat lower margin than the 20 points by which he carried the state four years ago. The real impact, in my opinion, is I saw elevated black turnout here in Louisiana and in the Georgia primary that was a few weeks ago because those are some of the few states that actually measure [the race a person is] registered as. I think of not only the three “blue wall” states that Donald Trump barely won, that perhaps with elevated Black turnout that could have been flipped in 2016. But I'm also thinking about Georgia and North Carolina and Florida, which are states that President Trump won by less than five percent of the vote, that theoretically suburban defections and or elevated black turnout could bring those not only to tossup races, but possibly where Joe Biden would actually have a chance to win.

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