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Voter turnout low, but not unusal, for spring elections

Posted at 2:38 PM, Mar 28, 2022

Voter turnout for this past weekend's election seemed pretty low - but that's the usual for spring elections.

"Between 2012 and 2021, in spring elections, we averaged about 13 percent turnout," Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin told KATC.
"If you remove the presidental preference primaries, it's about 11 percent state wide. Basically it's all about what's driving folks that's on the ballot."

Not all parishes had an election Saturday.

In St. Landry Parish, where there was one school board seat and three propositions seeking new taxes to fund teacher raises, improved athletic facilities and new schools, turnout was 30 percent in the school board district, but less than 23 percent parish-wide for the propositions - which failed.

In St. Martin Parish, where the entire St. Martinville government was on the ballot, turnout was better - 45 percent citywide. Turnout ranged from 45 percent for the mayor's race, to 39 percent to 46 percent in the individual city council districts.

In Evangeline Parish, there was 12 percent turnout for the renewal of two library taxes.

In Jeff Davis Parish, turnout was about 30 percent parishwide for the election of a new District Attorney to replace Kevin Millican, who died suddenly of a heart attack in July 2021. In Lake Arthur, turnout was about 23 percent for the renewal of three maintenance millages.

In Vermilion Parish, there were elections to replace one school board member, and to elect the mayors of Kaplan and Abbeville. There also were elections for city council spots in those towns, and for the Abbeville Chief of Police. Turnout was less than 12 percent for the school board district, but higher for the city offices. In Kaplan, turnout ranged from 37 to 40 percent. In Abbeville, turnout ranged from 32 to 36 percent.

In St. Mary Parish, there were two council seats in Franklin on the ballot, plus some changes to the Home Rule Charter in Patterson. Turnout for the Patterson issues was 5 percent. Turnout for the Franklin seats was 22 to 24 percent.

Ardoin said the fluctuations are all about what's on the ballot.

"It depends what's on it, which is driving people to turn out," Ardoin explained. "Typically spring elections are millages up for renewal, possible new taxes, that sort of thing, and so the numbers are really low."

Ardoin said one thing he wants to do once the new voter system is in place is to move more races and renewals to the fall elections.

"We don't want voters experiencing voter fatigue," he said.

Ardoin acknowledged that many local elections put their millages and renewals on spring elections because there's a belief that lower turnout benefits those type of propositions.

"Anybody who has served on local government, and I was on the school board for four years, knows. You're told by the administrative folks running the systems that possibly lower turnout is better for renewal of taxes and things like that," Ardoin said. "But as a statewide elected official, I see that the voters' will and intent is important, and if they reject something, that's something we need to look at. I understand the need of local governments to have the funding they need but sometimes the people are saying "do without" and that's something they need to look at."

Ardoin said low turnout isn't good; basically the majority of voters are allowing a small minority to make their decisions for them.

For instance, in Patterson the changes to the charter involved the required education level of the mayor and police chief of the town, and the way the chief's salary is set.

"Basically, 95 percent of the registered voters allowed 5 percent of the voters to make decisions about their local government," he said. "That's something people need to really think about that. If what happens doesn't make you happy, you have to think about that."

Although it was argued that expanding early voting - all elections in the state now include a week of early voting opportunity - would increase turnout, that hasn't turned out to be true, Ardoin said.

"The studies show that it's usually chronic voters who take advantage of that, voters who are voting in every election," he said. "We're seeing a change in their voting habits, not an increase in voters. Ironically, it seems to be that the easier you make it to vote, the less people participate. I don't support any expansion of early voting, because it doesn't turn up the volume, it just spreads it out."

Overall, Ardoin said, Louisiana has a pretty good registration rate. He says that 92 percent of all people in Louisiana who are eligible to vote are registered to vote.

"That's more than 3 million people registered out of 4.1 million," he said. "Obviously we have more to register, but some people don't want to register, and we can't force anyone to register - or to participate."