Louisiana voters head to the polls today during an unprecedented hurricane season and a pandemic

Nearly 1 million votes have already been cast in person or by mail

By: - November 3, 2020 8:23 am

In this photo illustration a pencil lies on a U.S. presidential election mail-in ballot received by a U.S. citizen living abroad that shows current U.S. Republican President Donald Trump and his main contender, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, among the choices on September 21, 2020 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Nearly eight months into a pandemic that has killed 5,720 Louisianians and six days after the seventh named storm of the 2020 season hit the state, a million or more Louisiana voters are expected to visit their polling places today to cast their votes for president, U.S. senator and U.S. representatives. All the state’s voters will also get to approve or reject seven proposed amendments to the Louisiana Constitution and voters in each of the state’s 64 parishes will get to decide if sports wagering should be allowed in their parish.

In addition to those elections that are common to every ballot, some voters across the state will be voting for judges, district attorneys, Louisiana Supreme Court justices and public service commissioners.  Voters in East Baton Rouge Parish will be selecting a mayor-president.

Ballots cast today will be added to the 977,685 Louisiana ballots that were mailed in or cast in-person during 10 days of early voting. Those ballots cast early represent 32 percent of the 3,092,734 registered voters in Louisiana and 48 percent of the total number of votes cast during the 2016 presidential election. On Oct. 27, the last day of early voting, Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin issued a statement acknowledging the hardships the state’s voters have encountered and expressing optimism that the turnout would be record-setting.

The Smoothie King Center, the arena for the New Orleans Pelicans NBA franchise, is open for early voting this election. (Photo by Jarvis DeBerry / Louisiana Illuminator)

“A pandemic or two hurricanes did not prevent nearly one million Louisianians from exercising their right to vote during early voting,” he said in that statement. “Louisiana voters are energized and eager to make their voices heard in critical elections from the presidency down to local races. It is my strong desire to see 2020 set the record for Louisiana’s highest turnout.”

Turnout for the 2016 Louisiana presidential election was 68.7 percent. During a subsequent interview with the Illuminator, however, Ardoin said he expects the total turnout to be around 70 percent, which is consistent with the turnout in recent presidential elections.

The 10 days of early voting was more than Louisianians typically get.  The three extra days were ordered by a federal judge after a lawsuit that alleged that Ardoin had not taken the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic into consideration when creating an emergency plan for the state’s November and December elections.

In addition to extending the number of days that Louisiana residents have to early vote, the judge also allowed an expanded use of mail-in ballots.

Louisiana voters who mailed in their ballots can see if their ballots have been received by visiting voterportal.sos.la.gov. In order to be counted for Tuesday’s election, ballots must have been received by 4:30 p.m. Monday. An exception is made for military personnel and other voters who are currently out of the country. Their ballots have to be received by 8 p.m. tonight

Voters who find that their ballots have not been received by the deadline can vote in person at their appropriate polling place.

Louisiana, with its eight Electoral College votes, is not expected to play a major role in the presidential election.  The state gave Democrat Bill Clinton 52 percent of the vote in 1996, but has voted for the Republican candidate for president in every election since then. A University of New Orleans poll published last week showed President Donald Trump winning 59 percent of the vote in Louisiana with former Vice President Joe Biden winning 36 percent.  

Congressional Races

In the U.S. Senate race Republican incumbent Bill Cassidy, a gastroenterologist from Baton Rouge, is facing a challenge from 14 candidates, including five Democrats and another Republican.  Of those Democratic opponents, Shreveport Mayor Adrian Perkins, a 34-year-old graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and Harvard Law School, won the support of the Louisiana Democratic Party and is expected to be the incumbent’s strongest competition.  

Five of the state’s six incumbent U.S. representatives are also seeking re-election.  Ralph Abraham, who won election in the Fifth Congressional District in 2014, announced in February that he would be retiring from Congress.  Vying for that open seat are four Democrats and five Republicans, making it highly likely that the winner won’t be decided until a Dec. 5 runoff election.

The state’s other five incumbents are favorites to win re-election. With the exception of 2012 when the state’s loss of a congressional district resulted in two sitting congressmen — Rep. Charles Boustany and Rep. Jeff Landry — running against one another, the last time an incumbent member of Congress in Louisiana lost a re-election bid was 2010.  That year, in the Second Congressional District, Democrat Cedric Richmond defeated Republican Joseph Cao, who himself had defeated 8-term incumbent Rep. William Jefferson in 2008 after Jefferson was indicted on federal corruption charges.  

FiveThirtyEight.com, a website that analyzes political polls, gives each incumbent U.S. House member in Louisiana at least a 95 percent chance of winning re-election.

Constitutional Amendments

Louisiana voters will be asked to approve or reject seven amendments to the state’s constitution.  Amendment 1 is likely to arouse the most passion.  It would add language to the state’s constitution that says “nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” The language will only come into play if the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court overturns its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortion a legal procedure across the United States.

According to opinion polls, Louisiana is one of the most anti-abortion states in the country. Louisiana has enacted 89 laws restricting access to abortion since the Roe v. Wade ruling, more than any other state.

Amendment 5, which would allow corporations to make negotiated payments in lieu of property taxes owed, is the second-most controversial amendment on Tuesday’s ballot.  Critics of the amendment say it would redirect money away from local governments that require property taxes to pay for the services they provide.

Amendment 2 would change the way that the value of oil and gas wells are assessed, allowing the “presence or production of oil or gas” to be factored into that assessment.  Amendment 3 would allow the state’s so-called “Rainy Day Fund” to be tapped during a federally declared disaster.

 Amendment 4 would cap at 5 percent the growth in expenditures the state could make year-over-year. That cap could only be exceeded by a two-thirds vote of the Louisiana Legislature. Amendment 6 would raise the income limit of seniors who receive the state’s homestead exemption and qualify for a frozen assessment.  Amendment 7 would create the Louisiana Unclaimed Property Permanent Trust Fund instead of allowing that money to be spent by the state on other things.

The Louisiana State Constitution was ratified by the state’s voters in April 1974 and went into effect in January 1975.  The first amendment to the state constitution was made in 1978, and there have been 196 since then, making the document especially bloated and unwieldy .  If voters approve half of the proposed constitutional changes today, the state will cross the 200-amendment threshold.

Voters will also get to decide whether they should allow sports betting in their parishes.  A 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision said states get to decide if betting on sports is allowed.  Louisiana is leaving that decision to its 64 parishes. Voters in each parish will get to decide whether wagering on sports should be legal.

When will results be known?

In Friday’s interview with the Illuminator,  Ardoin warned that Louisiana residents might not know the results of today’s election as early as they usually do.  “I think that folks need to be patient,” he said.  Some parishes might not be able to report complete results until Wednesday even though he suspects “the vast majority of the parishes” will be able to report Tuesday night.

Ardoin said 150,000 mail-in ballots had been received by Friday, a number that’s 134 percent higher than the 64,000 that were received by the deadline for the 2016 presidential election.

“It’s a laborious process and requires a lot more people than normal,” Ardoin said. “And so the more people and the more ballots you have, the more time it takes

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Jarvis DeBerry
Jarvis DeBerry

Jarvis DeBerry, former editor of the Louisiana Illuminator, spent 22 years at The Times-Picayune (and later NOLA.com) as a crime and courts reporter, an editorial writer, columnist and deputy opinions editor. He was on the team of Times-Picayune journalists awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service after that team’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the deadly flood that followed. In addition to the shared Pulitzer, DeBerry has won awards from the Louisiana Bar Association for best trial coverage and awards from the New Orleans Press Club, the Louisiana/ Mississippi Associated Press and the National Association of Black Journalists for his columns. A collection of his Times-Picayune columns, “I Feel to Believe” was published by the University of New Orleans Press in September 2020.