Filed Under:  Local, News, Politics

Anemic voter turnout saw Blacks out number whites at N.O. polls

28th October 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

The irony of the Magistrate’s court race comes from the fact that the primary results almost exactly reflect the demographic breakdown of Orleans Parish post-Katrina.

African-American candidates Harry Cantrell and Morris Reed collectively earned 64 percent of the vote, only slightly outpacing the 59.1 percent African-American proportion of the population of the City, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. However, at 36 percent, Mark Vicknair’s result is almost precisely the percentage of Caucasian population stats in Orleans Parish, with a few other minorities thrown into the mix.

In other words, in a low turnout race, where African-American voter attendance at the polls is supposed to be anemic, the two Black candidates managed to carry the Black vote to the polls—in proportion to the overall parish population—and still claim half of the Asians and Hispanic electorates.

The numbers work out. According to the Secretary of State, amongst the registered electorate, 58.8 percent of Orleans Parish’s qualified voters are African-American, 33.7 percent are Caucasian, and 7.6 percent are other minorities. The Saturday, October 19th results, almost evenly reflect regular voter stats, something unbelievable prior to either Hurricane Katrina or Barack Obama.

Blacks voted at or above the percentage of whites in a non-Presidential , non-mayoral, or non-gubernatorial election year. And, in a city that has jumped to nearly half the population owning a home since Hurricane Katrina, it is perhaps not surprising that the proportionately wealthier and better educated, African-American community now can boast of voter registration and participation levels that almost equal Black 2010 Census numbers for inhabitation of Orleans Parish.

As the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center noted to The Louisiana Weekly in the last edition, 103,881 fewer African Americans live in Orleans Parish compared to 2000, as compared to just 14,984 fewer Caucasians in the City. Meanwhile, the number of Hispanics grew by 4,830. (The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that 1,205,374 residents were living in the New Orleans metro area as of July 2012, a three percent increase from April 2010. However, the metro area has just 92 percent of its 2000 population of 1,316,510, most losses coming from Orleans.)

Out-migration, it seems, came from proportionately poorer, less educated citizens, data deemed due to the fact that the city of New Orleans, the share of adults with less than a high school degree fell from 25 percent to 15 percent, nearly as low as the United States average. The number of homeowners in­creased to 47 percent overall in the City, automobile ownership jumped to 27 percent from 19 percent, and the average age of the population grew older. (Child poverty rates, though, remained unchanged since 2000.)

Whatever the reason, better economics, or simply a willingness to vote, precinct-by-precinct voter turnout was remarkably consistent across the city regardless of the area or racial composition. That does not mean that all precincts were the same. Some were as low as 2.3 percent, others reached 18 percent, but most precincts emerge with a turnout close to the overall 10.5 percent turnout across the city, regardless of race.

In the Traffic Court race, the two finishers heading to the runoff are both Black, Steven Jupiter and Clint Smith, and the two most prominent Caucasian finishers, Patrick Giraud and Richard Perque, each earned 13 percent and a third and fourth place slot. Of course, 26 percent is less than the combined White vote, and the aggregate percentages earned by African-American candidates far outpaces the proportion of Black voters in the City of New Orleans.

However, the Traffic Court race is a classic example of an African-American candidate courting the New Orleans GOP vote. Clint Smith surprised many with his 17% second place slot, beating the better-known Marie Bookman or the heavily endorsed Nicole Sheppard. The good result, however, came from Smith barely ever missing a Women’s Republican Club of New Orleans or any other GOP meeting, and conversely, his Caucasian Democratic opponents barely ever making one.

Conservative white voters, at least many GOP activists, apparently felt better turning out for Smith than their fellow Caucasian candidates, especially after allies of Giraud appeared to attack Perque on the latter’s sexual orientation. The battle encouraged a distinct lack of enthusiasm for either amongst local Republicans.

In the runoff, while Smith 17 percent trails Jupiter’s 23 percent, the former’s appeal to conservative whites puts him a stronger position. Vicknair, the former head of the Alliance for Good Govern­ment stands as comparable to Cantrell in experience and background. Both have worked in Magistrate Court for years. The major platform difference between the two comes to Vicknair’s commitment to make the office a more full time position. That was the major plank of Morris Reed’s campaign, and time will tell if the stand for a full time magistrate draws Black voters who supported Reed to back Vicknair, instead of Cantrell.

This article originally published in the October 28, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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