Sec. Tom Schedler: After low voter turnout, time to rethink elections in Louisiana

Sec. of State Tom Schedler (Source: WAFB)
Sec. of State Tom Schedler (Source: WAFB)

(WAFB) - With Saturday's election setting what could be an all-time record for lowest voter turnout in Louisiana, the secretary of state believes it may be time to rethink how the Bayou State holds elections, arguing taxpayer dollars could be spent more wisely and efficiently.

Last Monday, Sec. Tom Schedler forecasted turnout could end up being 15 percent. Hoping to stir interest, he offered this promise: "I'd be more than happy to sit here and eat crow with you next week if we far surpass that."

After the weekend's showing, those crows will live to see another day. But Schedler says he believes the state's election plans should not.

Just 13.5 percent of registered voters cast a ballot, the latest in a downward trend in voter participation. However, whether turnout is 70 percent or 13 percent, Schedler says all statewide elections carry a price tag of roughly $6 million. This as the state faces an estimated $1 billion fiscal cliff.

"When you start adding those things up, it certainly gives me heartburn," he said. "Wouldn't it be nice to have this to put toward TOPS, road improvements, or parlay it in Medicaid," Schedler asked.

In recent years, state leaders have dramatically reduced the number of elections, eliminating summer polls altogether. "We're down to four election dates now – two in the spring and two in the fall – and that seems to suffice for the types of elections we need in Louisiana," said Michael Danahay. The Democratic state representative from Sulphur serves as chairman of the House and Governmental Affairs Committee.

To save money, Schedler says state leaders should go a step further, stacking as many statewide races on one ballot as possible, ideally at the same time as other big, attention-grabbing races. In doing so, he argues, they will only have to roll out voting booths across the entire state on certain occasions when turnout should be higher.

Of course, this sort of change could mean leaving interim, unelected individuals in office for longer periods of time when a state official resigns. For example, Ron Henson has filled in as state treasurer since John Kennedy left the post to join the U.S. Senate. If Schedler's ideas were implemented, Henson could fill-in as treasurer for much longer.

Still, he says it would be worth it financially. "Does it really make any difference to you, if someone who is knowledgeable of the position fills that position for 10 months, 11 months, or would it really make any difference if it was 18 or 24 months," asked Schedler.

Under Schedler's proposal, local elections could still happen as needed. Schedler says running a handful of local races costs far less than a statewide race.

Voters will get to go to the polls again on Saturday, November 18. The runoff for the treasurer's office will be among the ballot items. Schedler says turnout could be even lower then.

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