In Saturday’s (Oct. 14) statewide election primary, many voters seem uninterested. To project turnout on election day, political analysts examine turnout during the early voting period. According to the Secretary of State’s Office, at the close of early voting, counting both in-person and mail-in voters, 344,878 had voted. For comparison, in 2019 during the last gubernatorial primary, 386,468 early voted. While mail-in ballots will continue to trickle in until Friday, so far, this is a drop off of 41,590, or about 11 percent. 

In the 2019 primary, Black voters made up 97,990 of the early vote total. This year, Black voters make up 90,118, or about 26 percent of the early vote total so far. Black voters make up about 31 percent of the total electorate. Many are surprised that we have not seen stronger Black turnout yet, since one of the major candidates, Shawn Wilson, is Black.

In the 2019 primary, turnout was about 46 percent. Before the start of early voting, the Secretary of State’s Office projected a primary turnout of between 42 and 46 percent. However, based on the lower-than-expected actual early vote numbers coming in now, many analysts are projecting around 40 percent or lower. 

Low turnout elections may disadvantage Black candidates and grassroots candidates, because they lack the resources to broadcast their messages widely, so they depend on riding the tickets of like-minded candidates at the top of the ballot. In an election that lacks enthusiasm, there are no coattails to ride, so the richest candidates can win by virtue of money. 

High turnout elections tend to correlate with Black voters and young voters representing an increased proportion of the total votes cast, while low turnout elections tend to be whiter and older in terms of the demographics of votes cast. Low turnout elections generally mean large parts of the electorate might not have opportunities to have their interests represented. 

How did we get here? Louisiana was the home of such characters as Huey Long and Edwin Edwards, and the state has a history of colorful politicians. Voters here expect their politicians to entertain them as well as inform them. They expect politics to be fun. Simply put, the current gubernatorial campaign is not fun, and, as a result, many voters are not excited. Many are not engaged at all. 

This race has been stagnant for months. Most pundits believe that Republican Jeff Landry and Democrat Shawn Wilson would run first and second and make it to the runoff. All of the polls have reinforced this expectation. None of the other Republican candidates have been able to displace Landry, because of his huge fundraising advantage. A stagnant race is a boring race. 

And yet, in spite of no excitement at the top of the ticket, it is still important that Orleans Parish voters show up on election day. There are many important races on the ballot, including a hotly contested race for House District 91 between incumbent Mandy Landry and challenger Madison O’Malley, that could help determine how the much-maligned Louisiana Democratic Party looks in the future. There is also a House District 23 race, an open Criminal Court Judgeship, as well as two proposed City Charter amendments and a school board tax renewal.  

There also are elections for all statewide offices, and a list of four proposed constitutional amendments that deal with issues as varied as whether or not nonprofits can be denied a tax exemption if they allow their properties to fall into disrepair; to whether or not external nonprofits, such as the Gates Foundation, can be banned from spending money on get out the vote efforts. 

The message from the candidates to the voters should be: Go vote, because these elections directly affect your quality of life. And the message from the voters to the gubernatorial candidates at the top of the ticket should be: If you could figure out how to add some fun and spice and excitement to your campaign, that would help voter turnout a great deal. This is Louisiana after all. To stay engaged, we need our politics to be like our food and music, hot and spicy.      

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Robert Collins is a professor of Urban Studies and Public Policy at Dillard, where he holds the Conrad N. Hilton Endowed Professorship. He previously held positions as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences...