Public Service Commission runoff draws Black Democrats to the polls

Black turnout up for Public Service Commission race

By: - December 5, 2022 6:23 pm
Voters in Baker wait in line to cast ballots on the last day of Louisiana’s early voting period

Early voting in Louisiana ended Saturday ahead of the Dec. 10 runoff. (Photo credit: Wes Muller/Louisiana Illumiantor)

Early voting for the Dec. 10 general election has disproportionately drawn Democrats to the polls for a Louisiana Public Service Commission runoff, according to figures from the Secretary of State.

The race for the District 3 Public Service Commission seat between incumbent Lambert Boissiere III and challenger Davante Lewis has become the headliner in an election with no statewide candidates and three non-controversial constitutional amendments. The district stretches from New Orleans to Baton Rouge and is the only majority-Black, Democrat stronghold on the board that regulates utility companies serving Louisiana outside of New Orleans.

The commission has a broad range of regulatory powers, from setting the various rates and fees for electricity to approving the construction of new utility plants. The commission has drawn scrutiny following a recent surge in electric bills connected to the price of fossil fuels that run power plants.

Boissiere, a Democrat who has held the office for nearly two decades, collected 43% of the vote in the Nov. 8 primary, falling short of the 50% required to clinch the race.

Few surprises in Louisiana on Election Day; runoff next in PSC District 3

Lewis, a former school teacher and fiscal policy activist, led the pack of challengers with 18% in the primary. His campaign has focused on attacking Boissiere for accepting donations from the utility companies he regulates, including Entergy. Lewis’ refusal of such donations has brought him outside support from celebrities, including Mark Ruffalo, and a super PAC aligned with the Environmental Defense Fund.

Baton Rouge pollster John Couvillon of JMC Analytics & Polling said the runoff has so far disproportionately caught the attention of Democrats and Black voters.

Although overall turnout is significantly down from the primary, as expected in a small election, the early voting data for the Dec. 10 election show 35% Black turnout, up from the 25% seen in primary early voting, Couvillon said.

“It undercuts the conventional wisdom that says Blacks don’t vote in runoffs,” Couvillon said. “Well, they can and do.”

Although there’s not much on the ticket to draw Republican turnout, they could be a deciding factor in the PSC race if they turn out as a bloc, presumably for Boissiere, Couvillon said.

Early voting saw about 110,000 ballots cast statewide, according to the Louisiana Secretary of State’s Office. That equates to a roughly 15% turnout.

Couvillon said he expects another 260,000 voters Saturday for a statewide election total of about 370,000.

“The only thing statewide are those constitutional amendments, and those things are not turnout draws,” Couvillon said.

Every voter in the state will have at least the three proposed constitutional amendments, and many others will have local candidates or local propositions on Saturday’s ballot.

Twenty-five parishes will have local candidate races but no local propositions on Saturday’s ballot: Acadia, Avoyelles, Bossier, Caddo, Catahoula, Claiborne, Concordia, Franklin, Iberia, Iberville, Lafayette, Lincoln, Natchitoches, Orleans, Ouachita, Plaquemines, Pointe Coupee, Sabine, St. Charles, St. James, St. John, Terrebonne, Webster, West Baton Rouge and Winn.

Twenty-three parishes will have local candidate races and propositions: Ascension, Assumption, Bienville, Calcasieu, DeSoto, East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Evangeline, Jefferson, Jefferson Davis, LaSalle, Livingston, Rapides, Richland, St. Helena, St. Landry, St. Martin, St. Mary, St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Union, Vernon and Washington.

Eleven parishes will have constitutional amendments only: Allen, Beauregard, Caldwell, Cameron, East Carroll, Grant, Jackson, Madison, Red River, Tensas and Vermilion.

Five parishes will have local propositions but no candidate races: Lafourche, Morehouse, St. Bernard, West Carroll and West Feliciana.

Voters who are out-of-town or otherwise unable to vote in person still have until 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6, to request an absentee ballot. Voters can make the requests and check the status of previous requests online at voterportal.sos.la.gov or in person at their parish registrar of voters office.

The deadline to return a completed ballot is 4:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9. A voter or voter’s immediate family member must return a completed absentee ballot to the parish registrar by mail or in-person no later than 4:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9. Ballots received after that time will not be counted, but voters who miss the deadline can still vote in-person Saturday.

Military, overseas and hospitalized absentee ballots must be returned no later than 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 10.

Absentee voters must fill out all requested information on the affidavit flap of the return envelope included with their ballot and must affix a postage stamp to mail it. 

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Wesley Muller
Wesley Muller

Wes Muller traces his journalism roots back to 1997 when, at age 13, he built and launched a hyper-local news website for his New Orleans neighborhood. In the years since then, he has freelanced for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and worked on staff at the Sun Herald in Biloxi, WAFB-9News CBS in Baton Rouge, and the Enterprise-Journal in McComb, Mississippi. He also taught English as an adjunct instructor at Baton Rouge Community College. Among his recognitions are McClatchy's National President's Award, the Associated Press Freedom of Information Award, and the Daniel M. Phillips Freedom of Information Award from the Mississippi Press Association. Muller is an alumnus of Jesuit High School and the University of New Orleans and is a veteran U.S. Army paratrooper. He lives in Louisiana with his wife and two sons.

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