BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana has one statewide position on the ballot Tuesday, a special election to fill a secretary of state seat vacated because of a sexual harassment scandal, but the crowded primary competition has lacked the attention-grabbing nature of other states' races around the country.
Beyond filling the election chief's job, Louisiana voters were deciding whether to return six U.S. House incumbents to Washington for another term and whether to rewrite six provisions in the state constitution. One constitutional amendment has attracted intense support across the political spectrum, to require unanimous jury verdicts for all felony convictions.
Runoff elections, as needed, will be Dec. 8.
SECRETARY OF STATE
The competition to be Louisiana's next secretary of state is jam-packed, with nine candidates jockeying to complete the remaining year of the term of Republican Tom Schedler, who resigned in May amid allegations he sexually harassed an employee.
Louisiana's secretary of state oversees elections, state archives and business registrations.
Schedler's top aide, Republican Kyle Ardoin of Baton Rouge, is working in the interim position. While he repeatedly said he wouldn't run, Ardoin announced in the final minutes of the candidate sign-up period that he changed his mind and would be on the ballot.
Other Republicans seeking the position include Turkey Creek Mayor Heather Cloud, former state Sen. A.G. Crowe of Pearl River, state Rep. Rick Edmonds of Baton Rouge, and state Rep. Julie Stokes of Kenner. Democrats in the race include Gwen Collins-Greenup, a lawyer and notary from Clinton, and Renee Fontenot Free, a former first assistant to two prior secretaries of state who most recently worked for the attorney general.
Only a few contenders have raised enough money — or loaned their campaigns enough cash — to reach out to voters via TV and radio. Many of the candidates have focused on low-expense efforts, traveling the state to speak at small forums, luncheons, parades and other events.
U.S. HOUSE SEATS
All six of Louisiana's incumbent congressmen have drawn opponents: Republicans Steve Scalise in the 1st District, Clay Higgins in the 3rd District, Mike Johnson in the 4th District, Ralph Abraham in the 5th District, and Garret Graves in the 6th District and Democrat Cedric Richmond in the 2nd District.
Many of their opponents, however, significantly lag in the financing to mount the sort of advertising and outreach effort often needed to oust a sitting member of Congress.
If Scalise and Richmond win re-election as expected, both men are positioned for continued high-profile leadership roles, depending on which party controls the House in the upcoming term. Scalise is the House's third-ranking Republican and is expected to advance higher if Republicans control the House. Richmond is chairman of the influential Congressional Black Caucus and could move into an even more prominent position if Democrats take the House.
In his first term in office, Higgins drew the most challengers, with six contenders trying to oust him from the district representing southwest and south central Louisiana. He's also the only Louisiana congressman to face an intra-party fight.
There are six proposals to change the Louisiana Constitution.
Amendment 1 would make convicted state felons wait five years after serving their sentences before they can run for office in Louisiana, unless they are pardoned.
Amendment 2 would end a Jim Crow-era law that allows split juries to convict people of serious felony crimes. Louisiana is one of two states that permit non-unanimous verdicts in felony cases. The proposal would require all felony jury verdicts to be unanimous to convict.
Amendment 3 would authorize local government agencies to share equipment and staff for a specific activity if they have a written agreement, without any compensation needing to be exchanged.
Amendment 4 would prohibit use of money from Louisiana's Transportation Trust Fund, which contains state gasoline and fuel tax income, to pay for state police operations. Instead, the money could only be spent on road, bridge, port and airport work.
Amendment 5 would extend Louisiana's special property tax assessments for the elderly, disabled veterans and surviving spouses of people in the military, law enforcement, firefighters and emergency medical technicians who die in the line of duty to homes placed in a trust.
Amendment 6 would require a four-year phase-in of higher property taxes when a tax assessor's reappraisal boosts a home's value by more than 50 percent. The change wouldn't apply if the home is sold or its value was bumped up by construction or upgrades.
Voters will decide on a parish-by-parish basis whether to legalize cash-league fantasy sports contests through online sites such as DraftKings and FanDuel.
With fantasy sports websites, people can create imaginary teams of real-life sports players and score points based on how those players perform in actual games. The sites charge an entry fee and offer payouts to winners.
Louisiana is one of nine states that don't allow online fantasy sports betting. Though the games only will be permitted in parishes where voters authorize it, anybody will be able to log into the fantasy sports sites if they travel to those parishes.
Louisiana decides future of non-unanimous jury verdicts
Voters will decide Tuesday whether Louisiana should join almost every other state in the nation where jury verdicts must be unanimous.
For decades jurors in felony trials — with the exception of death penalty cases — have been able to convict defendants with a 10-2 or 11-1 verdict.
Oregon is the only other state that allows split verdicts, and in Louisiana, support for joining the other 48 has been broad, with a rare coalition of conservatives and progressives calling for passage.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, a Republican, and the only Democrat in the state congressional delegation, Rep. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans, supported it. So did groups as politically diverse as the Louisiana Family Forum and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Backers derided split-verdict felonies as a vestige of Jim Crow-era polices promoting white supremacy, making it easier to convict non-white defendants even if one or two non-whites are on a jury. And they noted the possibility of a non-unanimous jury convicting innocent defendants.
A video distributed by the Unanimous Jury Coalition featured two exonerated convicts who had been imprisoned as a result of split verdicts.
It was a fear exploited in a 30-second online ad for the amendment by the conservative Koch-brothers-backed Americans For Prosperity. "Imagine your child is charged with a crime she didn't commit," the ad said. "Multiple jurors agree she is innocent but the government sends her to prison anyway. It happens in Louisiana."
While broad, support wasn't unanimous.
Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier was a vocal opponent as the amendment moved through the Legislature. Sabine Parish District Attorney Don Burkett also has publicly opposed it, saying it would thwart justice by enabling a single juror to block a conviction in a case where evidence is clearly beyond a reasonable doubt.
"Child molesters, drug dealers, murderers — it's going to make it tougher than ever to convict them," Burkett said in an interview.
The Louisiana District Attorneys Association stayed officially neutral. But, some prosecutors gave full-throated support.
District attorneys backing the measure included Hillar Moore III in Baton Rouge, James Stewart in Caddo Parish, Keith Stutes in Lafayette, and Paul Connick of Jefferson Parish in suburban New Orleans. New Orleans' district attorney Leon Cannizzaro stayed neutral.
"Once you know the history of this law, then you have to vote to repeal it," former Grant Parish District Attorney Ed Tarpley, a Republican, told the Press Club of Baton Rouge as he campaigned for the amendment. "This is something that is a stain on the legacy of our state."