Early Birds Win The Election!

Even though it hasn’t yet reached a conclusion, there’s already a group of winners emerging from the 2017 election cycle in Louisiana. They’re our state’s early voters, or those folks who either mail in their ballots or cast their choices in person during the weeks preceding Election Day.

“We’re not seeing a shift overall in voter turnout, but we are seeing early voting as an option continuing to build,” said Meg Casper Sunstrom, spokesperson for Secretary of State Tom Schedler. “It’s becoming more and more popular.”

Early voting for this fall's elections stretched from one Saturday to another (Sept. 30 through Oct. 7) and initial reports pointed to robust participation. So much so that JMC Analytics and Polling predicted — after just one day of balloting — that early voting could comprise 30 percent or more of the overall turnout.

If that’s the case, Louisiana’s early birds will set a new election record. The benchmark was established nearly a year ago, in November's presidential race, when early voters accounted for 26 percent of the total turnout.

So who are all of these people and how are they getting ahead of the game? For starters, early voting can be broken down into two categories: those who ship their ballots via the postal service and those who personally walk into the booth during the week of early voting, which is happening right now.

The vast majority of the early voters participating by mail are typically 65 or older. The state has a special program that allows senior citizens to opt-in for the mail service. Overseas military personnel fall into this category, too, as do Louisiana residents working or temporarily living in another country.

But there are many other people who could qualify for a mail-in ballot. For example, are you in a government witness protection program? There’s a mail-in ballot for that. Are you on a jury? Are you imprisoned but not yet convicted? Are you a priest, student, offshore worker or nursing home resident? There are mail-in ballots for all of that.

Simply make your choice and get that piece of paper to a parish registrar of voters. It’s that easy.

As long as you are registered to vote, and you have a good reason, you can even request a mail-in ballot right now — assuming you’re reading this prior to 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 10, which is the final day to make such a request. (And please be aware that the deadline to submit your ballot is just three days later, on Oct. 13, unless you’re in the military or are overseas.)

You might be wondering what happens to all of those paper ballots that are let loose into the electoral wilds of Louisiana. Well, parish registrars more or less sit on them until Election Day, when the ballots are opened and counted in the early afternoon. Until then the mail-in counts remain a mystery.

By comparison, early voting in person is much easier. Find out where your early voting precinct is located, show up and be patriotic. Moreover, while you’re at it, take some pride in knowing that you’re part of a growing trend in Louisiana politics that may very well shatter a ceiling this year.

Some political nerds saw this coming. The number of people who are voting by mail or during the early voting week has exceeded 20 percent of the total turnout for four statewide elections in a row. Professionally-run campaigns, meanwhile, have certainly taken notice. Candidates are making sure this segment of the electorate doesn't go overlooked. After all, if it’s a tight race those senior citizens, roughnecks and soldiers can make all of the difference.

For consultants and media buyers, the growth in the early voting process has moved the entire election process up by two to three weeks. Commercials are popping up on television screens sooner and negative attacks are coming quicker. Elderly voters, in particular, are being courted more aggressively.

Newspapers are catching on as well. Whereas publications have long put out printed ballots for voters to study and mark up before they visit their precincts on Election Day, many are now doing the same for the week of early voting — even the smaller community papers.

One of the Bayou State's running gags has always been to encourage folks to vote early and vote often. One of those directives, of course, is rather illegal. The other, though, is perfectly legit. So vote early, Louisiana! This trend could become one of the best things to come out of the 2017 election cycle.

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