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|Early voting points to high turnout|
Record numbers of early votes cast across Louisiana could spell the highest voter turnout in recent history.
Speaking in Monroe on Monday, Gov. Bobby Jindal said he hoped the 2008 presidential elections would mark the highest turnout in history — an achievement he said is entirely possible.
In Franklin Parish, more than 1,400 voters had cast early votes ahead of the Nov. 4 general election.
Franklin Registrar of Voters Geneva Cupp said interest in the presidential contest is driving voters to the polls.
"It's pretty high, but usually the presidential race is high," said Cupp.
According to Cupp, some ten percent of the parish 13,834 eligible voters had cast ballots in person. Cupp said she had sent out "a large number" of absentee mail-in ballots but she has not counted the number returned so far.
"We've just been busy," Cupp said. "People are really taking advantage of the opportunity to early vote and are turning out big."
In the Nov. 4 general election, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama faces Republican Sen. John McCain.
Also on the Nov. 4 ballot, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu faces strong opposition from Republican State Treasurer John Kennedy. Landrieu had widely been expected to easily win. However, recent polls indicate the race is virtually deadlocked.
Lawmakers in Baton Rouge have also added seven constitutional amendments to the ballot.
Amendment 1 establishes a three-consecutive-term limit for a number of state boards and commissions, including the Public Service Commission, the Civil Service Commission and the Bond Commission.
Amendment 2 changes the required number of days between the announcement of a special legislative session and the beginning of the session from five to seven. Also, Amendment 2 defines a day as a 24-hour period.
That issue arose last year when Gov. Bobby Jindal issued his second call for a special session of the state Legislature on a Wednesday evening, leaving some legislators only two business days to prepare for the session.
Amendment 3 would give the Legislature authority to appoint temporary successors for legislators called to active military duty. Currently, if a sitting legislator is called to active duty, he must forfeit his seat or leave his district unrepresented.
Under the terms of Amendment 3, legislators could provide a mechanism to appoint a temporary successor to fill the seat until the legislator "returns."
Amendment 4 increases the percentage of oil and gas severance taxes that the state returns to the parish from which the tax originated. Also, Amendment 4 raises the caps from $850,000 per parish a year to more than $1.2 million a year.
Property owners who claim special exemptions due to retirement or military service could see some relief from a loophole that snags many Louisiana residents.
State tax laws provide the exemptions to military personnel and retired families as a means of economic development and retaining citizens.
However, if the parties sell the property they have claimed the exemption, they cannot claim the exemption on any new home they purchase.
Amendment 5 would make such property tax exemptions transferable.
Amendment 6 alters the way certain properties purchased via eminent domain are resold. Current state law provides mechanisms for eminent domain to be used to buy properties damaged or at risk of environmental damage due to blight.
Following recovery, those properties are then sold at current market values.
However, Amendment 5 would provide a right of first refusal to the former property owners. Such a right already exists for other eminent domain purchases made by the state.
A final amendment would allow the state retirement benefits plan to invest non-pension funds in the stock market. Currently, the Louisiana Constitution prohibits investing of any state retirement funds in the stock market.
However, under the terms of Amendment 7, that restriction would be lifted on money contributed to non-pension accounts and would allow those funds to be invested in stock markets.
Polls in the Nov. 4 election open at 6:30 a.m. and close at 8:30 p.m.
Voters must present identification to cast their ballots.