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Around the States

Louisianans Head to Polls for First Major Statewide Election Since Katrina PDF  | Print |  Email
By M. Mindy Moretti, electionline.org   
October 30, 2007

Election preparation is business-as-usual, although thousands vote early and absentee

 

This article appeared in the electionline newsletter and is repostd here with permission of the author. 

 

For the first time since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast in late 2005, residents of Louisiana will head to the polls on October 20 for a statewide election to cast their ballot for positions including governor, members of the state legislature and local elections.

 

In 2005, the Secretary of State's office undertook a massive voter outreach program to ensure that every displaced voter had an opportunity to cast a ballot in the Orleans Parish elections nine months after the hurricanes. Although the office continues to update its Web site, advertise election dates and provide toll free voter assistance there was not an all-over mobilization effort for this election.

 

According to Elections Commissioner Angie LaPlace, the state did continue to help Orleans Parish and others work to train and retain election commissioners from outside the area and the Secretary of State secured pay raises for commissioners as an incentive to return for future elections.

The 2005 election in Orleans Parish saw a necessary launch of vote centers; however, for this election the parish has returned to largely neighborhood polling places. Some polling places still combine as many as 15 precincts, but nothing like the 50 or so that were combined in 2005. In St. Bernard Parish all precincts have been combined into five locations.

 

Although the logistics of conducting the 2007 race have been smooth and fairly predictable, voter turnout particularly in places like Orleans and St. Bernard Parishes is decidedly unpredictable.

As of the beginning of October, nearly 3 million people were registered to vote in Louisiana which is actually an increase of about 2 percent from the last gubernatorial election in 2003. However, Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters Sandra Wilson told the Times-Picayune that she thinks more than 100,000 of the city's voters have left and will ultimately be removed from the voting rolls.

 

While registered voter numbers may be up overall throughout Louisiana, the face of Bayou voters has shifted since the storms. Republican registrations are on the rise and Democratic registrations are decreasing.

 

So, while predicting voter turnout is a bit like predicting the weather, if newly introduced early voting is any indication, voter turnout for Saturday's election could be high.

 

Early voting ended on Saturday, Oct. 13 and although votes are still being counted, at noon on Oct. 17, 137,610 registered voters had voted either early or absentee.

 

This year marks the first time that voters in Louisiana have been able to vote early without signing an affidavit saying they will be out of town on election day. The early voting period lasted for seven days and by all accounts was a rousing success.

 

"Early voting was very successful," said LaPlace. "We also had a pilot program where we offered early voting in two parishes outside of the registrar's office, in other public buildings, which were also very successful."

 

Although some tried to point the finger for high turnout to voters wanting to avoid interfering with college football games and tailgating or the start of deer season in parts of the state, LaPlace said that state went to great lengths to advertise the option of early voting.

 

"I believe the general population is starting to learn how easy and convenient it is and take advantage of the opportunity to vote without an excuse," LaPlace said.

 

Voter turnout for the last gubernatorial election in 2003 was a little more than 50 percent.

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