- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 2, 2016

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana voters turned out in record numbers during early voting, according to data released Wednesday that surprised a top elections official, who had worried the animosity of the presidential race could cause a voting slump.

Secretary of State Tom Schedler said voters’ anger about the presidential candidates, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, instead seems to be driving people to the polls in Louisiana.

“The numbers are staggering,” he said.

More than 515,000 voters cast their ballots early in Louisiana’s weeklong early voting period that ended Tuesday - 17 percent of the state’s 3 million registered voters. By comparison, nearly 357,000 people early voted for the presidential election four years ago and 292,000 people cast early ballots in the election eight years ago.

Schedler’s predicting a statewide voter turnout for next week’s election that could top the 68 percent level of the 2012 presidential election and reach as high as 70 percent.

“We went into this election with, ‘Well, is anybody going to even show up?’ We just didn’t have a feel for it, because you heard so many people frustrated with both candidates,” he said. “But we ended up with lines behind lines behind lines” of people.

“I think it’s totally driven by the presidential race,” Schedler said.

Louisiana also has an open U.S. Senate seat, six U.S. House seats and an array of local elections on the ballot.

White voters showed up in greater proportions, while black voting lagged, according to the data. While 31 percent of registered voters are African-American, only 27 percent of those who cast ballots ahead of Election Day were black.

Republicans also turned out in greater proportions than their Democratic and independent counterparts. While 30 percent of state voters are registered with the GOP, they made up 39 percent of the early voters, according to the statistics released by Schedler’s office.

Nearly all of those who routinely vote have cast their ballots ahead of Election Day. Schedler said 98 percent of people considered Louisiana’s “chronic voters” showed up during early voting.

While concerns had been raised about turnout in the Baton Rouge area because of flooding that ravaged the region in August, early voting participation grew in the most heavily damaged parishes, suggesting those concerns may have been unfounded.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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