A Different Kind of Blue


It was 1992 and a little over a month from the Democratic National Convention when an Arkansas governor turned presidential candidate took to the Arsenio Hall stage with his saxophone. Donning sunglasses and a bright yellow tie, he went on to capture not just the attention of the country but Louisiana’s eight electoral votes and, ultimately, the presidency. The charismatic New Democrat went on to win the Bayou State again in 1996. Prior to Clinton, Louisiana had not voted for a Democratic candidate in a presidential election since another Southern governor, Jimmy Carter, ran in 1976. Twenty four years later the state remained red  with Donald Trump winning 58.5% of the vote. The only state in the deep south with a Democratic governor, the question of if Louisiana could flip blue again was asked by politicos and everyday voters alike. 

In a nail biting crescendo of election returns in the days following the November 2020 presidential election, Georgia flipped blue for the first time in almost 30 years. Now as Georgia nears its January 5th runoff, two Democratic congressional candidates on the ballot, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff could clinch a Democrat majority in the Senate. Georgia’s current political climate is a result of the work of many organizations and people who have worked tirelessly to expand voter access and break the chains of systemic voter suppression efforts. Long considered a safe Republican stronghold, the changing demographics of Georgia’s suburban areas along with voter mobilization efforts targeting rural and metro areas are a literal blueprint for other states to follow. The sheer organizing prowess of political superstars like Stacey Abrams and her New Georgia Project create a harmonious melody of what can happen when progressive strategy and a cohesive statewide effort to energize and engage the electorate are prioritized. By supporting progressive candidates at both the municipal and state level, reengaging low propensity voters, organizing voter registration efforts which deliberately seek out potential voters whose values align with progressive ideology, and focusing on those newly enfranchised, Louisiana can do the same. 

Louisiana shattered all of its previously held records during the November 3rd presidential election. 70.1% of all registered voters participated either by mail or in person. Early voting numbers showed 45% of the 3 million voters participated early. This type of historic voter turnout does not come about by chance. A coalition of organizations including the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, The Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, its partners and two individuals brought a lawsuit, Harding v. Edwards, to expand safe voter access in light of the COVID-19 pandemic when the Secretary of State’s efforts proved to be inadequate. The winning lawsuit included increasing early voting days from 7 to 10 days and expanded criteria authorizing more people to vote by mail. 

The Secretary of State, who is tasked with ensuring a fair and equitable voting process  in the state, did not appeal the court’s decision. The effect of these changes in the lawsuit was clear. Additional early voting days allowed for more opportunities to vote in person. In parishes like Caddo where the population sits at just under 200,000 but currently only has one early voting location, the increased number of days and expanded voting hours allowed the northern Democratic anchor of the state multiple weekends and evenings for people to vote. Removing the hurdles of transportation and standing in long lines gave voters vote by mail access that was commonly only granted to those who met stringent criteria. The hope from those coalitions who won the lawsuit is now that the voters have taken advantage of these rules to exercise their Constitutional right and the expanded voting criteria will remain. 

Here in Louisiana, we have an entirely new group of voters who remain largely untapped. As of March 1, 2019 formerly incarcerated people in Louisiana who meet certain conditions had their voting rights reinstated. Norris Henderson, Executive Director of VOTE and progressive legislators worked tirelessly to pass this legislation. Field directors, community organizers, and canvassers commonly come across the formerly incarcerated who are not aware of the change in the law. A concentrated public relations and education effort alongside probation and parole offices throughout the state and communities and nonprofit organizations who focus on re-entry efforts could lead to a substantial increase in registering these potential voters. The desired outcomes would be progressive voters who thoroughly understand the need for progressive criminal justice reform.Many of those same voters who know the system from the inside and would benefit from having candidates who are focused on decarceral initiatives. To engage new voters, such as those impacted by felony disenfranchisement, registration is only the beginning. Candidates must also be worth showing up for. 

Progressive candidates need training to be competitive against a conservative machine. The best candidate with a great idea is only as good as the team around them. Trained field directors and community organizers who understand the lay of the community are paramount to providing data to turn out low propensity voters. Organizations like the Louisiana chapter of the New Leaders Council  and Emerge Louisiana train progressive leaders to impact their communities in substantial ways. Some of them go on to run for office but many serve on campaign teams, introduce progressive legislation, and serve on municipal level boards. Other organizations like Emerge specifically exist to train Democratic women to run for office. 

Younger voters are rapidly growing to become the largest bloc of voters. Each year approximately 90,000 juniors and seniors matriculate through Louisiana’s high schools. Often, there is no comprehensive plan to guarantee these students are registered to vote. Mr. Robert Jackson, from Caddo Parish, developed a program the National High School Senior’s Voter Registration and Education Program in 1996. The program observes the first Tuesday in May as “National High School Senior’s Voter Registration Day.” Since May 2003, the program has registered roughly 18,000 new voters in the Caddo Parish School System alone. Breaking down silos between parish school boards and local organizations is paramount in assisting with registering young people to vote who tend to be more diverse and more likely to vote Democrat. 

Louisiana is not a red state. It is a voter suppressed state waiting on those who claim to want to move it forward to be on the same page. The business of flipping a state requires deliberate, intentional steps as outlined above and statewide community organizing encompassing metro, suburban and rural areas.  Flip a municipality and you can flip a parish. Flip a parish and you can flip a district. Flip a district and you can flip a state.

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