Voter turnout a concern as candidates enter final push in West Baton Rouge sheriff’s runoff

WEST BATON ROUGE — Although most of what have been deemed “big races” were decided in the primary election on Oct. 14, the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s race has yet to be determined.

Candidates Leo Fontenot and Jeff Bergeron are battling for the spot to replace longtime sheriff Mike Cazes, and the election is a tossup because of what political analysts fear will be extremely low voter turnout.

Bergeron may have a slight edge heading into the runoff. He received 44 percent of the vote in the October primary. Fontenot was a distant second with 30 percent, which was enough to send him to the runoff, surpassing challenger Zack Simmers, who received 26 percent of the vote.

The candidates are adapting their campaign strategies, focusing not only on ‘get out the vote’ efforts but also on promoting their own candidacy.

“Momentum has kind of slowed down”

Louisiana’s October jungle primary, encompassing high-profile state races ranging from governor to secretary of state, as well as local contests, witnessed a decline in voter turnout compared to four years ago.

All neighboring parishes, including East Baton Rouge, Pointe Coupee, Iberville, Livingston, Ascension, East Feliciana, and West Feliciana Parishes, saw a decrease in voter turnout, and this trend extended to West Baton Rouge Parish as well.

West Baton Rouge Registrar Corey Passantino reported a voter turnout of 59.99 percent in 2019, which declined to 56.72 percent in the October primary. Still, West Baton Rouge maintained the highest voter turnout among neighboring parishes, with the election of a new parish president and a competitive sheriff’s race helping get voters to the polls. According to the secretary of state’s website, the next highest turnout was in Iberville at 54.6 percent.

“We always prepare for a decent turnout with a gubernatorial election,” Passantino said. “But this one in comparison was lower. I’m going to prepare for a similar turnout as the primary, but from everything I’ve been hearing, it seems like the momentum has kind of slowed down a little bit.”

Passantino said throughout the year, her office encourages education on the process through voter outreach.

“We do our best to encourage people to get familiar with the candidates, the amendments, and what’s on the ballot,” she said. “We have voter education week and different opportunities for voter registration. We advertise. We have a Facebook page with everything on it. We put signs out. We had more signs for this election. We do what we can. It’s in the voters’ hands after that.”

“We’re looking at going back to square one”

Fontenot said he’s visited several local events in the last few weeks leading up to the runoff. He said he is returning to the beginning as election day draws closer.

“We’re looking at going back to square one and doing everything all over again,” he explained. “We’re looking to reach out to some areas and touch back on some areas that we weren’t able to reach. We want to see if we can encourage them to go out, do the right thing, and exercise their right to vote.”

Fontenot said they’ll work to get more signs and audio out to help get people to the polls.

“We want to give the people a jumpstart, ignite them, and get them excited about getting back to the polls because of the importance of the race,” he stated. “We’ve got a second chance to do this thing all over again, and right now, it’s crunch time. It’s down to the wire. We need to get back out and exercise our right to vote.”

Bergeron said he and his team continue to knock on doors and talk to voters about the issues that matter most to them. He also participated in the West Baton Rouge Veteran’s Parade recently.

“Engaging with voters on a personal level is how we get people excited about this election,” Bergeron said. “It’s an honor to celebrate our veterans right here in WBR.”

Bergeron said he was pleased with the primary results. He said it confirmed what he knew the first day of the campaign- the voters want change and transparency in the sheriff’s office in West Baton Rouge.

“I want to thank everyone who supported us in the primary, and If we didn’t get your vote in the first round, we’d be honored to have your support in the second, and I promise you we’ll run a sheriff’s office everyone in this parish can be proud of,” Bergeron said.

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