It seems like the presidential election just ended — Georgia certified its election results on Thursday — but Louisianans are already heading back to the polls for the start of early in-person voting for the Dec. 5 runoff elections.
Under Louisiana’s open primary system, any race in which no candidate earned more than 50 percent of the vote on Nov. 3 goes to a runoff with the top two finishers.
Election officials expect shorter lines and much lower turnout than in the Nov. 3 election. As a result, many of the court-ordered coronavirus accommodations that were made for the presidential election are no longer in place.
Voters in this fall’s election and this summer’s presidential primary and municipal elections could qualify for mail-in ballots under certain COVID-19-related circumstances. This included individuals who have medical conditions that make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus and the people who care for them, as well as people who have tested positive for COVID-19, had close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 or were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. None of this is the case for the Dec. 5 runoff.
Early in-person voting has essentially returned to normal and will be held for seven days from Nov. 20 through Nov. 28. Early voting locations will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. each day — one hour less than they were open during the early voting period for the Nov. 3 presidential election — and will be closed on Nov. 22, Thursday Nov. 26 (Thanksgiving) and Nov. 27 (Acadian Day).
Many of the large-scale early voting sites that were available during last month’s early in-person voting period will not be available this go around. In Orleans Parish election officials turned the Smoothie King Center into an early voting location, using its ample space to ensure proper social distancing to limit the spread of the coronavirus. In East Baton Rouge Parish, some voters cast their ballots at Forest Community Park. Neither of those facilities is being used during this early voting period. An up-to-date list of early voting locations can be found here.
The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Tuesday, Dec. 1, and all absentee ballots must be received by the registrar of voters by 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 4.
You can track the status of your absentee ballot through the online voter portal.
Here’s a rundown of the one-on-one matchups to watch.
U.S. Representative for Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District
Lance Harris (R) v. Luke Letlow (R)
Ideologically, little separates Luke Letlow and Lance Harris. Both are conservative Republicans and neither has spoken in great detail about specific policies they would push for in Washington. The rhetoric on the campaign trail has focused more on the candidates themselves.
Letlow previously served as the chief of staff for Ralph Abraham, the current occupant of the congressional seat. Before that he worked as a staffer for Gov. Bobby Jindal and a lobbyist for the oil and gas industry, and as the campaign manager for Abraham’s failed gubernatorial bid in 2019.
Harris, a state representative for Alexandria and former leader of the Republican delegation in the state House of Representatives, pitches himself as an experienced elected official who has proven his conservative credentials through the bills he has authored and the votes he has cast. He criticized Letlow as inexperienced.
“You can select somebody that’s done nothing but be a politically appointed government employee and a lobbyist that doesn’t have the life experiences that should go with the job as congressman,” Harris said of Letlow Thursday during a debate hosted by Alexandria’s KNOE. “Or you can select someone that’s a small businessman, that’s a farmer, that’s created hundreds of jobs and put hundreds of families to work.
Letlow is the clear front runner. He earned twice as many votes as Harris in the primary and has raised three times as much money for his campaign. He has also secured the endorsements of the last two occupants of the Congressional seat, along with 22 of the 24 sheriffs in the district.
Harris barely secured a spot in the runoff with 17 percent of the vote, about 400 votes more than third-place finisher Sandra Cristophe.
“There’s a reason that I led my opponent by more than 50,000 votes, and that’s because of my record,” Letlow said. “I’ll work with anybody that’ll help us succeed, but most importantly between me and my opponent, I listened.”
Orleans Parish District Attorney
Keva Landrum (D) v. Jason Williams (D)
Keva Landrum, a former judge and prosecutor, faces Jason Williams, New Orleans City Council president and a criminal defense attorney in the race to determine who will replace Leon Cannizzaro as New Orleans District Attorney.
Landrum earned 35 percent of the vote in the Nov. 3 primary. Williams won 29 percent. Retired Judge Arthur Hunter finished third with 28 percent of the vote. Hunter has not endorsed a candidate in the runoff. Landrum has earned endorsements from Mayor LaToya Cantrell, State Senator Karen Carter Peterson and the White-House-bound U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond.
Both candidates are campaigning as reformers intent on addressing violent crime while taking strides to create a more equitable criminal justice system.
In his capacity as head of the City Council, Williams is pushing to shift money from the DA’s office to the Orleans Public Defenders, a move that prompted sharp criticism from Cannizzaro.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asked the candidates where they stand on several hot-button issues for reform-minded prosecutors, like prosecuting people for marijuana possession and seeking harsher sentences using the state’s “habitual offender” laws. In nearly every instance, Williams pledged to make the change presented by the ACLU, and Landrum declined.
During a rough-and-tumble candidate forum on Nov. 19, Williams criticized Landrum's record as a prosecutor through the 1990s and early 2000s and questioned her commitment to reform.
“Keva and I have been friends for over 30 years,” Williams said between attacks.
“Let’s be clear,” Landrum interjected. “We were.”
Williams accused Landrum of “punting” in 2008 when she, as interim district attorney, referred the prosecution of New Orleans Police Department Officers involved in the Danziger Bridge shooting to the U.S. Department of Justice instead of handling the case herself.
Landrum said the decision was based on budgetary considerations, and that Williams’ accusations prove that Williams, who has never worked as a prosecutor, does not understand how the DA’s office operates.
She pointed to endorsements she has received from several members of the New Orleans City Council, saying they show that Williams alienates anyone he works with.
On several occasions, Landrum said that as the subject of an ongoing federal tax fraud investigation, Williams would be unable to adequately serve the people of New Orleans. Williams accused Cannizzaro of starting the investigation as political retribution.
Williams faces 11 charges and has a trial date set for mid-January.
East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President
Sharon Weston Broome (D) v. Steve Carter (R)
Broome, the incumbent, finished with 48 percent of the vote — falling about 4,000 votes short of the 50-percent-plus-one that would have helped her avoid a runoff. State Rep. Denise Marcelle, a Black woman and the only other Democrat in the race, earned 7 percent in the Nov. 3 primary.
By comparison, the three Republican candidates in the race split 43 percent of the vote. Carter rose to the top with 20 percent.
The Republican party has coalesced behind Carter. He has won the endorsements of the Republican Party of Louisiana (LAGOP) as well as Matt Watson and Jordan Piazza — the two Republicans he bested in the primary. Earlier this week, the LAGOP stoked unfounded fears over election security by posting a photo of Carter with the caption “The Capital Region cannot afford for this election to be stolen.”
State and federal officials have consistently said there was no evidence of voter fraud in the Nov. 3 election.
Notably, Broome has neither received or sought Marcelle’s endorsement, but she has the support of the state Democratic party and Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Voter enthusiasm will be a big factor in the runoff. In 2016, more than 190,000 votes were cast in the primary — held the same time voters flocked to the polls to vote for president. That number plummeted to 115,000 a month later for the runoff — even with a high-profile U.S. Senate runoff at the top of voters’ ballots.
A previously scheduled candidate forum was postponed last week after a member of Carter’s family tested positive for the coronavirus.
The only measure on the ballot that will be considered statewide is a proposed constitutional amendment. This item was passed by the legislature during the special legislative session that ended late last month. It would allow people who reside outside Louisiana to serve on the boards of the state’s public colleges and universities.
The nonpartisan Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana published this summary of the arguments for and against.