Secretary of State: Louisiana voter turnout could hit an all time low

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - If Election Day comes around and nobody goes to the polls, did it really happen? State leaders are expecting a new low in voter turnout this weekend.

After a dismal statewide turnout in October, Secretary of State Tom Schedler says this Saturday will likely be even worse. "There is a point where you hit bottom, and we're probably getting pretty close to it," he said.

Roughly 14 percent of registered voters went to the polls in the primary. Schedler predicts the runoff will draw just 13 percent, or even less. "If we did not have that mayoral election in New Orleans – Wow! We would be here talking single digit turnout!"

Across the state, most voters will only be asked one question when they go to the polls: who should replace John Kennedy? The treasurer's race has drawn very little attention. While it may be easy to write it off as just a special election, Mike Henderson with LSU says this low voter engagement is symptomatic of a bigger, long-term issue.

"Since the early 80s, we've seen a steady decline in our state government elections," he said.

Henderson heads up LSU's public policy research lab. He says it's not just special elections that are drawing lower turnout, but all state races, including even those for the governor's office.

His data shows in 1983, more than 53 percent of the population eligible to vote actually cast a ballot in the gubernatorial race. By 2015, that dipped to 33.1 percent. Nearly half of eligible voters voted for the treasurer's office in 1987. By 2015, just 29 percent voted.

But Henderson says over the past few decades, not all races fit this trend. Presidential elections have historically drawn more than 50 percent of voters. "Our turnout in presidential elections in Louisiana is still very robust, still is very high given our demographics compared to the rest of the country," he said.

So why are people checking out for state races? There's no definitive reason, but Schedler has at least one guess. "Folks are frustrated that, in their perception, the legislature is not making the decisions it has to make, a la Washington, D.C.," he said.

And if that's a key cause, do not expect it to be easy to reverse this downward trend.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, November 18. After you vote Saturday, join us on 9News at 10. Kevin Frey and Lauren Westbrook will have you covered as the votes are tallied.

Copyright 2017 WAFB. All rights reserved.