Turnout turns down for sheriff's race

by Christiaan Mader

With 15 percent of the voting public still up for grabs and an assuredly dwindling electorate, the sheriff's race looks to be up in the air.

Lafayette Parish shows dismal voting returns
Louisiana Secretary of State

It doesn’t matter which race you look at, the narrative of this election cycle was directed by dismal turnout. You can blame it on the rain (you gotta blame it on something), the Tigers’ non-conference home game or electoral agnosticism (laziness), but Lafayette's participation level proves that voters are more than willing to disenfranchise themselves. Your vote definitely won’t count if you don’t cast it.

It’s unclear how all this disinterest affected the sheriff’s race which, despite the equalizing phenomenon of voter absence, concluded as expected — with a runoff between Chad Leger and Mark Garber. From a distance, the numbers themselves lined up as the polls predicted. Garber held a lead with a 46 percent plurality, seven points ahead of Leger. Breaking it down by region and individual precinct, Garber claimed at least plural victories in 91 of 128 precincts with majorities in 39 of those. Leger won 37 precincts, 14 by majority.

Not surprisingly, Leger did very well in Scott, Judice, Duson and Milton, sweeping Garber in Duson and Judice. Garber managed to eek out three of Scott’s 12 precincts, but Leger was a world-beater in the remaining nine.

Garber’s base, by contrast, is wider in geography but not as staunchly committed. Garber held fast in Broussard, Carencro and all three subdivisions of Lafayette city limits, but not with the same margins Leger boats in his strongholds.

Of course, while I can document all the numbers you want, it doesn’t really tell us too much about what might happen come Nov. 21. Assuming the same electorate shows up, Leger and Garber will have just over 15 percent of the pie to claim, left on the table by the departure of lower card candidates John Rogers and Rick Chargois. That’s 8,500 members of the dutiful voting public who have become ostensibly undecided as of the morning of Oct. 25.

Conventional wisdom has held that Chargois’ supporters will cross over with Leger. Both men have openly criticized outgoing Sheriff Mike Neustrom’s decision to reject detainer requests of suspected undocumented immigrants, unless accompanied by warrant or judicial signature, introducing verbiage and statistics by anti-immigration distortion wizards Center for Immigration Studies into the electoral conversation. That issue was late-coming and launched by Leger-endorser City Marshal Brian Pope, and caught some fire in town with controversial language used to characterize the parish as a gift wrapped and ready for plundering undocumented felons.

While it’s unclear to what extent that message has resonated outside of Leger’s and Chargois’ support bases, the issue will certainly remain in the public eye for the next few weeks. Purveying fear of immigrant crime and allegations of departmental under-staffing, poor structural security and rampant contraband in the jail (coming to a head in a video released by attorney L. Clayton Burgess in preparation for suit of LPSO and LCG), Leger’s campaign will likely continue to build policy planks out of Neustrom’s administrative coffin and attempt to bury Garber in it.

Beyond considerations of whose supporters will go to which remaining candidate — at press time, neither Chargois nor Rogers has endorsed a run-off contender — it’s not a given that the vox populi will comprise of as many voices for the general election. The last election that featured a state-wide runoff on the ballot was 2014’s senatorial contest, which saw 51 percent statewide turnout for the Nov. 4 primary, with 50 percent turnout in Lafayette parish. That number dipped dramatically in the ensuing December runoff between then-Sen. Mary Landrieu and now-Sen. Bill Cassidy. Only 43 percent of statewide voters showed up to re-vote, and Cassidy's second place primary standing turned to victory.

That meager participation was still four points higher than the 2015 primary. If historical trends hold, we may be looking at even lower record lows. No matter what, this election will be decided by whoever decides to show up, however few that may be.