Voter turnout low in governor's race

From Staff and

Wire Reports

Only about a third of Louisiana’s voters bothered to cast votes in the election to choose their state leaders for the next four years. In St. Mary Parish, however, turnout was significantly higher.

Unofficial figures from the Secretary of State’s Office peg statewide voter turnout at less than 36 percent — fewer people than several elections leaders predicted. One million of Louisiana’s 2.8 million registered voters went to the polls, the fewest number of voters to cast ballots in a governor’s race since Louisiana switched to the open primary system in 1975.

Voters’ participation dropped the further down the ballot they went.

In St. Mary Parish, voter turnout was 45 percent, with just over 15,000 voters going to the polls to cast their ballots in the sheriff’s race. Voter participation dropped off only slightly in the parish president race where 14,355 voters, or 43.1 percent of the electorate, made their voices heard.

With few heated legislative races, a Democratic Party in decline and unable to field candidates for statewide office, and a governor’s race all but decided months before the election, voters statewide had few reasons to go to the polls, said Pearson Cross, a political scientist at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

“There was essentially no race for the governor’s position, and that not only affects competition for the governor’s race, it takes the drama out of the election. It takes the centerpiece out of it. It’s like having the Christmas tree without a topper,” Cross said Sunday.

Residents won’t see any change in the top offices when the new terms begin in January. All seven of Louisiana’s statewide elected officials, all Republicans, won their re-election bids, two of them without competition.

Gov. Bobby Jindal got 66 percent of the vote in a 10-candidate field, the most lopsided primary victory in a governor’s race ever in the state’s open primary system. His challengers couldn’t muster name recognition or significant financing to put up a major challenge.

In St. Mary, Jindal got 9,792 votes, besting the next closest candidate Tara Hollis by a huge margin. She received 2,343 votes. None of the other contenders received more than 800 votes in this parish.

“I think that’s very strong because you had a lot of people who could have cast protest votes, but they didn’t,” Cross said. “Nationwide, I think people will respect that number and will say that makes him an extremely popular governor in the state of Louisiana.”

Jindal was expected to discuss leadership and plans for his second term early this week. His inauguration will be Jan. 9.

Also staying in their seats are Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, Secretary of State Tom Schedler, Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, Treasurer John Kennedy, Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon and Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain.

Schedler had the narrowest of victories, barely topping 50 percent against House Speaker Jim Tucker, who has not conceded the race. Tucker said he’ll wait until the votes are officially certified by the secretary of state’s office.

Results in St. Mary Parish for those races were:

—Lieutenant governor incumbent Jay Dardenne of Baton Rouge received 6,565 votes and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser of Port Sulphur received 5,960.

—Secretary of state incumbent Tom Schedler received 5,724, while House Speaker Jim Tucker got 6,406 votes.

—Commissioner of Insurance incumbent Jim Donelon bested his opponent Donald Hodge, 8,450 to 4,992.

—Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain received 8,381 votes over his two opponents in his re-election bid. Belinda Alexandrenko received 729 votes and Jamie LaBranche got 4,325 votes.

Elections Commissioner Angie Rogers said that formal process could wrap up as early as this week. Parish elections supervisors will open each voting machine to verify the results and send statements compiling the findings to the secretary of state’s office, which has until 12 days after the election to certify the outcome.

“It usually doesn’t take us the full 12 days to promulgate, and I’m not aware of any problems,” Rogers said Sunday.

Despite the tight race for secretary of state, Louisiana doesn’t have an automatic recount provision. A candidate has to request a recount if he wants one.

Three education board seats are headed to a Nov. 19 runoff that will determine whether Jindal gets the supermajority he’s seeking to control the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Also, a string of legislative competitions won’t be decided until next month. But what is clear is that Republicans will maintain majorities in both the House and Senate, and lawmakers already are vying for leadership positions and seeking support from Jindal for those jobs.

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