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Ballots cast in recent CDC primary races were along racial lines

10th April 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Christopher Tidmore
Contributing Writer

White voters in Orleans Parish turned out to the polls at a rate nearly three times higher than African-American voters did in the March 25, 2017 judicial election. It is largely the reason why Caucasian Civil Court candidate Suzy Montero nearly emerged victorious in the primary earning 49.6 percent of the vote, while her main African-American opponent Rachael Johnson won just 40.5 percent.

The third candidate Marie Williams, did garner 9.9 percent of the vote, putting the combined total of the two African-American contenders over 50 percent, but the advantage going into the April runoff currently could harken for Suzy Montero—due to a Caucasian electorate apparently more willing to go to the polls.

That isn’t to say that Montero did not reach out to African-American voters, nor that Johnson refused to campaign for the white vote. Nevertheless, University of New Orleans political scientist Dr Edward Chervenak noted that the Civil District Court primary was a “classic illustrations of racially polarized voting patterns”.

“Montero was able to win nearly 88 percent of the white vote,” he continued, “but only two percent of the Black vote. Johnson won approximately seven percent of the white vote while Williams garnered five percent. The two African-American candidates split the Black vote with Johnson earning 80 percent of the Black vote while Williams claimed 18 percent of the vote in the heavily Black precincts. A breakdown of the vote across city council districts mirrors what was found in the plot charts. Montero’s vote decreases monotonically from District A to District E, while conversely, Johnson’s support increases from District A to District E. We should expect a close and highly polarized runoff between Montero and Johnson.”

On Election Day, white voters turned out at a rate that was nearly three times higher than that for African-American voters. Thirteen percent of voters in the heavily white precincts went to the polls on Saturday, compared to only five percent of voters in the heavily African-American neighborhoods—almost triple.

Chervenak did point out that in early voting, “African Americans were more likely to cast their ballots early than were whites or non-Black minorities. African Americans were 57 percent of registered voters, but they comprised 67 percent of early voters. Whites and non-Black minorities were both under-represented among early voters by five percentage points.”

However, only two percent of voters cast early votes, erasing much of the African-American electoral advantage in comparison to turnout on Election Day.

In the Obama years, African Americans reversed historic voting patterns, turning out to vote at levels at or above white turnout. The racial participation gap seemed to think of the past, even in local special elections where overall voter participation consistently fell. The Montero – Johnson contest suggests that in the March primary, and perhaps the April runoff, Caucasian enthusiasm to vote may once again exceed that of African Americans.

A disadvantage for Johnson could be that there will be no high profile all African-American judicial contest leading the ballot in Orleans Parish. The Paula Brown-Tiffany Chase race arguably helped drive Black vote in the down ticket contest, while only moderately impacting the white vote. Overall turnout was 10.2 percent in the 4th Circuit election, which possessed no Caucasian candidates, compared to 10.4 percent in the Civil District Court race which did.

Nevertheless, as Chervenak observed, “In winning the contest for the seat on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, Paula Brown, on average, won a majority of the vote throughout the city. She was able to win 54 percent of the vote in the heavily white precincts and 52 percent in the heavily Black precincts on Saturday. A breakdown of the vote by council district indicates she outperformed Tiffany Chase in four of the five districts with the two candidates tied in District B. Brown’s highest vote support came from District C.”

It’s easy to speculate, as the two Appellate candidates almost evenly divided the racial groups in the city, that neither depressed the White electorate nor discouraged Black turnout. Both Judges were capable African-American female contenders who each ran an unusually positive and upbeat race, with few negatives attached.

The same cannot be said for the Montero – Johnson contest, which ended up in a contentious court battle the day before the election. It’s a truism of politics to say that negativity can backfire. With rare exceptions, the dirtier a race becomes, the lower turnout in off-year special elections. Superchronic voters become more influential, and that means a higher percentage of white versus Black voters in Orleans Parish.

Loss of even a small handful of Black voters, based on the racial divides present in the March primary voting patterns, would probably ensure a Montero victory. The runoff is April 29.

This article originally published in the April 10, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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