In the election game, this shapeless mass is referred to as simply "The Others." But the tag can be misgiving, especially due to the sector's growth in recent years. In Lafayette Parish, where Republican registration has made record gains, there's been a healthy increase in independents. During the most recent statewide elections last year, the number of registered independents skyrocketed to 32,000, with 6,600 casting votes.
That's a huge jump from less than a decade ago. According to post-election statistics from the Secretary of State's Office, roughly 453 independent voters were registered in Lafayette Parish in 1998, and only 17 voted.
While independents in Louisiana aren't yet closing the gap with the 1.5 million registered Democrats, they have only 83,500 fewer members than the Republican Party. Regardless of their standing, independents are rarely tapped for judicial appointments in the state or asked for input by the administration. Additionally, political scientists focus more on voting behaviors in their research than party identification. It's just one of the many factors that makes it difficult to judge the impact of independents in Louisiana, says Ernie Roberson, a Caddo Parish native who became Louisiana's first nationally certified registrar of voters in 1999.
When the National Voter Registration Act was adopted 14 years ago, making it easier for people to become voters through offices of motor vehicles, Web sites, libraries, and other means, many hurriedly signed up and left their party affiliation blank, says Roberson, thus making them an "other" on the rolls. "The biggest surprise we saw in those early years was how many people just didn't pick a mainline party at all," says Roberson, who has served on two federal election task forces. "That's what makes them difficult for candidates to approach. That's why neither of the parties can make headway in getting converts. It's so hard to measure because there's so much we don't know about them."
Furthermore, there are countless studies about registered Democrats and Republicans who consider themselves independents but have never switched over. That comes as heartening news to Michael S. Wolf, secretary of the Louisiana Libertarian Party. Arguably the most active independent party in the state, Libertarians constantly run candidates for statewide office and Congress ' 24 contenders since 2000 ' but they're placing a larger focus on state legislative seats this year. The move could prove to be a boon for the group's grassroots structure.
With more than 2,500 voters on the rolls, Wolf says the Libertarians ' along with the Green and Reform parties, which are also recognized by the state ' offer independent voters a place to call home. It's the surest way independents can unite their voice for a difference to the status quo, although quite a bit of romanticism can be placed in standing firm and being autonomous. "Parties in Louisiana have historically been futile, but that's changing," Wolf says. "Voting has been about relationships and personalities. Everybody had to join a team, but there are alternatives."
Candidates running as independent were allowed to place their party's name near their own on ballots for the first time last year, as long as their party met certain criteria ' at least 1,000 registered voters and a presidential candidate that pulled down 5 percent in a recent statewide election. Many groups, such as the "Independent Party," didn't make the cut when the law took effect in 2005 due to its 30,000 members. Neither did the Black Panther Party or Aerosmith Party, which didn't get many members to walk its way.
For generations, the state's unique open-primary system has encouraged more independent candidates to run. But starting next year, Louisiana will revert to the closed-primary system for congressional races. Whether the two parties will allow independents to vote in their primary is unknown ' they could get shut out. Additionally, Republicans look likely to capture the state House of Representatives, narrowing perspectives ever further, and voter rolls are still in disarray following Katrina and Rita.
Wolf isn't convinced the new primary system will set back non-affiliated voters, but he's holding off judgment until the 2008 election cycle wraps up. Dr. Robert Hogan, a professor of American politics at Louisiana State University, says the independent movement in Louisiana over the past decade can't be ignored, but the next few years may really define the political undercurrent of this state. "The congressional races are changing, the Legislature is in play, and Katrina is still upsetting the applecart," notes Hogan.
Struggling to preserve their Senate majority, Democrats are attacking Republicans over Medicare and Social Security in Louisiana, spending cuts in Arkansas, off-shore jobs in New Hampshire and women's issues in Colorado.
Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro says he "can't wait" to play against Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The heat keeps rising for Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal as a new slate of corruption allegations surfaced this week.
If opposing defenses sell out to stop the Packers' passing game, they risk being gashed by powerful running back Eddie Lacy, a New Orleans-area native.
At the horn the officiating crew trotted to the tunnel and left security personnel to clean up after them.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Sign "ninjas" cleaning up clutter; NYC doctor positive for Ebola; Ferguson grand jury decision nears; and more national and international news for Friday, October 24, 2014.
We can safely assume incumbent Chief K.P. Gibson isn’t too worried about this challenger.
Nationally, Republicans must gain six seats to win Senate control. The most competitive races, many in states where Obama lost in 2012, remain too close to call.
The Baton Rouge Republican has repeatedly battled a perception within his own party that he perhaps wasn't the best choice to carry the GOP banner.
Even if Jimmy Graham's production dips while the star tight end recovers from a shoulder injury, it looks like Drew Brees won't have much trouble finding other targets.
A former campaign manager for Senate candidate Rob Maness is striking at the Republican contender's tea party support, saying Maness only sought to appeal to conservative organizations because he needed money for his campaign.
Ninety-two percent of public school teachers were rated either effective or highly effective in a report the state issued marking the second year of a new statewide evaluation process.
School board members Mark Babineaux, Hunter Beasley and Tehmi Chassion can vote to fire Cooper — because we all know that’s exactly what they’ll do.
District 2 school board candidate Simon Mahan is hoping to unseat first-term incumbent and former Carencro Mayor Tommy Angelle in the Nov. 4 election.
District Attorney Mike Harson is showing his desperation by falsely attributing quotes to his opponent and blocking journalists from his social media.
The governor is traveling the country laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential campaign, but his approval ratings at home hover well below 50 percent.
State District Judge Bob Downing extended the order and delayed a planned Wednesday hearing about a permanent injunction while negotiations continue between Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the waste disposal site operator.
New Louisiana higher education commissioner Joseph Rallo will be paid more than his predecessor.
Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris each had four rushing touchdowns, and Louisiana-Lafayette rolled to 419 yards on the ground in a 55-40 victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday night.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are the validators-in-chief for Democrats struggling through a bleak campaign season in states where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular.
President Barack Obama is turning to black radio listeners to plead for midterm votes, a targeted approach to drum up Democratic support at a time when many candidates don't want him around in person.
"I am extremely disheartened by the political machines that are attempting to hijack my efforts along with others that advocate for children."
Landrieu, who is fighting to keep her seat for a fourth term, said that Ebola is serious and precautions should be taken, but she accused Republicans of using the virus outbreak in West Africa to "create fear" here at home.
Law enforcement agencies are participating in a "Louisiana Heroin Summit," designed to address the recent rise in heroin use and drug-related deaths around the state.