Voter “fraud” report for Presidential commission rife with errors and inaccuracies

(Crossposted to electionupdates.caltech.edu)

I look forward to a more detailed analysis by voter registration and database match experts of the GAI report that will be presented to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity , but even a cursory reading reveals a number of serious misunderstandings and confusions that call into question that authors’ understanding of some of the most basic facts about voter registration, voting, and elections administration in the United States.

Fair warning: I grade student papers as part of my job, and one of the comments I make most often is “be precise”. Categories and definitions are fundamentally important, especially in a highly politicized environment like that current surrounding American elections.

The GAI report is far from precise; it’s not a stretch to say at many points that it’s sloppy and misinformed. I worry that it’s purposefully misleading. Perhaps I overstate the importance of some of the mistakes below. I leave that for the reader to judge.

  • The report uses an overly broad and inaccurate definition of vote fraud.

American voter lists are designed to tolerate invalid voter registration records, which do not equate to invalid votes, because to do otherwise would lead to eligible voters being prevented from casting legal votes.

But the report follows a very common and misleading attempt to conflate errors in the voter rolls with “voter fraud”. Read their “definition”:

Voter fraud is defined as illegal interference with the process of an election. It can take many forms, including voter impersonation, vote buying, noncitizen voting, dead voters, felon voting, fraudulent addresses, registration fraud, elections officials fraud, and duplicate voting.8

Where did this definition come from? As the source of the definition, they cite the Brennan Center report “The Truth About Voter Fraud” (https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/legacy/The%20Truth%20About%20Voter%20Fraud.pdf).

However, the Brennan Center authors are very careful to define voter fraud. From Pg. 4 of their report in a way that directly warns against an overly broad and imprecise definition:

Voter fraud” is fraud by voters. More precisely, “voter fraud” occurs when individuals cast ballots despite knowing that they are ineligible to vote, in an attempt to defraud the election system.1

This sounds straightforward. And yet, voter fraud is often conflated, intentionally or unintentionally, with other forms of election misconduct or irregularities.

To be fair to the authors, they do not conflate in their analysis situations such as being registered in two places at once with “voter fraud”, but the definition is sloppy, isn’t supported by the report they cite, and reinforces a highly misleading claim that voter registration errors are analogous to voter fraud.

David Becker can describe ad nauseam how damaging this misinterpretation has been.

  • The report makes unsubstantiated claims about the efficacy of Voter ID in preventing voter fraud.

Regardless of how you feel about voter ID, if you are going to claim that voter ID prevents in-person vote fraud, you need to provide actual proof, not just a supposition. The report authors write:

GAI also found several irregularities that increase the potential for voter fraud, such as improper voter registration addresses, erroneous voter roll birthdates, and the lack of definitive identification required to vote.

The key term here is “definitive identification”, a term that appears nowhere in HAVAThe authors either purposely or sloppily misstate the legal requirements of HAVA.  On pg. 20 of the report, they write that HAVA has a

“requirement that eligible voters use definitive forms of identification when registering to vote”

The word “definitive” appears again, and a bit later in the paragraph, it appears that a “definitive” ID, according to the authors, is:

“Valid drivers’ license numbers and the last four digits of an individual’s social security number…”,

But not according to HAVA. HAVA requirements are, as stated in the report:

“Alternative forms of identification include state ID cards, passports, military IDs, employee IDs, student IDs, bank statements, utility bills, and pay stubs.”

The rhetorical turn occurs at the end of the paragraph, when the authors conclude that these other forms of ID are:

“less reliable than the driver’s license and social security number standard”. This portion of the is far from precise.

and apparently not “definitive” and hence prone to fraud.

Surely the authors don’t intend to imply that a passport is “less reliable” than a drivers license and social security number. In many (most?) states, a “state ID card” is just as reliable as a drivers license. I’m not familiar with the identification requirements for a military ID—perhaps an expert can help out?[ED NOTE: I am informed by a friend that a civilian ID at the Pentagon requires a retinal scan and fingerprints]–but are military IDs really less “definitive” than a driver’s license?

If you are going to claim that voter fraud is an issue requiring immediate national attention, and that states are not requiring “definitive” IDs, you’d better get some of the most basic details of the most basic laws and procedures correct.

  • The authors claim states did not comply with their data requests, when it appears that state officials were simply following state law

The authors write:

(t)he Help America Vote Act of 2002 mandates that every state maintains a centralized statewide database of voter registrations.14

That’s fine, but the authors seem to think this means that HAVA requires that the states make this information available to researchers at little to no cost. Anyone who has worked in this field knows that many states have laws that restrict this information to registered political entities. Most states restrict the number of data items that can be released in the interests of confidentiality.

Rather than acknowledging that state officials are constrained by state law, the authors claim non-compliance:

In effect, Massachusetts and other states withhold this data from the public.

I can just hear the gnashing of teeth in the 50 state capitols.I am sympathetic with the authors’ difficulties in obtaining statewide voter registration and voter history files. Along with the authors, I would like to see all state files be available for a low or modest fee, and to researchers.

There is no requirement that the database be made available for an affordable fee, nor that the database be available beyond political entitles.  These choices are left to the states.  it is wrong to charge “non-compliance” when an official is following statute (passed by their state legislatures).

I don’t know whether the report authors didn’t have subject matter knowledge or were purposefully trying to create a misleading image of non-cooperation with the Commission.

  • The report shows that voter fraud is nearly non-existent, while simultaneously
    claiming the problem requires “immediate attention”.

But let’s return to the bottom line conclusion of the report: voter fraud is pervasive enough to require “immediate attention.” Do their data support this claim?

The most basic calculation would be the rate of “voter fraud” as defined in the report The 45,000 figure (total potential illegally cast ballots) is highly problematic, based on imputing from suspect calculations in 21 states, then imputed to 29 other states without considering even the most basic rules of statistical calculation.

Nonetheless, even if you accept the calculation, it translates into a “voter fraud” rate of 0.000323741007194 (45,000 / 139 million), or three thousandths of a percent.

This is almost exactly the probability that you will be struck across your whole lifetime (a chance of 1 in 3000 http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/06/0623_040623_lightningfacts.html)

I’m not the first one to notice this comparison—see pg. 4 of the Brennan Center report cited below. And here I thought I found something new!


There are many, many experts in election sciences and election administration that could have helped the Commission conduct a careful scientific review of the probability of duplicate registration and duplicate voting.  This report, written by Lorraine Minnite more than a decade ago lays out precisely the steps that need to be taken to uncover voter fraud and how statewide voter files should be used in this effort. There are many others in the field including those worried about voter fraud and those who are skeptics of voter fraud who have been calling for just such a careful study.

Unfortunately, the Commission instead chose to consult a “consulting firm” with no experience in the field, and which chose to consult database companies who also had no expertise in the field.

I’m sure that other experts will examine in more detail the calculations about duplicate voting. However, at first look, the report fails the smell test. It’s a real stinker.


Paul Gronke
Professor, Reed College
Director, Early Voting Information Center

http://earlyvoting.net

Early Voting: An Advantage for Republicans? Early Voting: An Advantage for Republicans?

screen-shot-2017-04-27-at-9-56-15-am

 

 

 

 

The research team at the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, have a new paper analyzing the partisan impact of early voting laws, in combination with a set of other election reforms. The abstract is provided below; the piece is gated at the Political Research Quarterly but may be available from the authors. 

I would still caution against overinterpreting these results as providing a roadmap for election law gamesmanship. Burden et al. spend a bit too much time, in my judgment, opining about how partisan actors may or may not misestimate the political impact of reforms to election laws, without acknowledging the highly contingent and dynamic nature of the legal and administrative environment. 

For example, it’s almost certain than when a new voting method is made available, strategic political actors from both parties look at these changes, look at what groups opt for one or another method, and start to change their campaigns accordingly. Capturing this kind of institutional dynamic is nearly impossible to do in a national study like this, and can easily make gamesmanship seem a lot simpler than it actually is. 

 

 

 

How is Oregon Motor Voter affecting different counties? How is Oregon Motor Voter affecting different counties?

(This is a guest posting from Nick Solomon, Reed College senior in Mathematics)

One of our first assignments in our Election Sciences course was to take a look at the Oregon Motor Voter data and try and tease out any patterns we could find in it.

screen-shot-2017-02-26-at-7-50-11-pmI’ve always been interested in geographic statistics, so I decided to examine Oregon counties. This can be especially valuable because geography tends to to be a good proxy for making inferences about demographic variables we might not have access to, like income, race, or education level (none of these are accessible via the Oregon statewide voter registration file).

The figure displays party of registration among citizens registered via OMV.  It’s important to remember when looking at the graphic that the OMV process initially categorizes all citizens as “NAV” (non-affiliated voters), and citizens must return a postcard designating a party. As of January 2017, as shown on the left, 78% of registrants did not return the card, and only 11% decided to select a party. 

Bar plot of percent of voter registered via OMV by county

 

The county by county totals are fascinating. OMV voters constitute the highest percentage of registered voters in Malheur county. Many readers may recognize the name–the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was the site of a 41 day standoff between law enforcement and a small group of occupiers.  

Malheur is located in the farthest southeast corner of the state. It’s rural, relatively poor, and much more Republican than the rest of the state. John McCain received 69% of the vote in Malheur in 2008. 

In an upcoming blog post, another student will be posting a map of this county by county visualization, and it’s apparent that a number of rural counties have high percentages of OMV registrants. 

At the recommendation of a few experts who looked at the graphic I decided to examine the percentage of OMV voters by county versus the total number of registered voters. This lets us get a sense of whether Malheur is an outlier caused by a very small sample size making the percentage value overly sensitive or if this is a number that we can trust.

A scatter plot of log county population and percent of voters registered via OMV

Here, the total number of voters is plotted on a log scale, as many counties have smaller numbers of voters, while the Portland metro area has many more.

The log scale allows us to get a better sense of any relationship between number of voters and percent registered by OMV without the few large numbers dominating the plot.

This graphic shows that there are quite a few counties of similar size to Malheur, and some that are even smaller. Furthermore, we see that Malheur is not very far from other counties of its size.

Finally, to my eye, there seems to be no meaningful relationship between these two variables, so I find myself concluding that Malheur county, along with Umatilla and Morrow and Curry and Coos are experiencing a much greater benefit in access to voter registration than some larger, more urban counties.

For those interested, these graphics were made with R and ggplot2. I’ll be posting on my personal blog with more details about how I made them.

Eventually, I hope to learn more I was also curious about hoe OMV might be affecting party turnout at the polls. Keep tuned for future updates!

Early Voting Under Consideration in the Northeast Early Voting Under Consideration in the Northeast
Image courtesy of the National Conference of State Legislatures (http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/absentee-and-early-voting.aspx)

Image courtesy of the National Conference of State Legislatures (http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/absentee-and-early-voting.aspx)

A number of Northeast states are considering adding or expanding early voting, according to a story in The Hill. 

I hope that administrators and legislators in the states make sure they make a decision based on comprehensive and accurate information and not rely on anecdote.

Most importantly, early voting has a complicated relationship to overall voter turnout.  Most studies show a small but positive relationship, though one prominent study reports a negative relationship. If you put in more early voting locations, more citizens vote early (but it’s not clear if more voters overall cast a ballot). 

Jan Leighley and Jonathan Nagler put it best in a recent blog posting (in the context of voter registration laws): higher turnout depends mostly on parties and candidates, not on changes to voting laws. 

The point?  New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner is quoted in the story and his statement reflects many common misconceptions about early voting: 

“We’re seeing turnout nationally go down in each of the last three elections even as more and more states rush to make it easier to vote by having early voting,”

Misconception 1: there has been no “rush” to add early voting options since 2008. The rate of states adding early voting provisions has slowed substantially as we get down the final 13 holdouts (according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states plus DC offered some form of early voting in 2016, compared to 36 plus DC in 2012, and 34 in 2008).

Misconception 2: turnout has not declined for the last three cycles. Final totals in 2016 appear to be slightly up from 2012 and about 2% lower than 2008.  

Misconception 3: national turnout is the best way to understand the impact of state and local laws. National totals disguise enormous variation in turnout between and within states, competitiveness in statewide races, and differences in rules and laws.  There is also some scattered evidence that early voting benefits some subpopulations more than others, and this can be overlooked in national and even statewide totals. 

The second point in the article is harder to address: the costs of early voting.  Michael McDonald suggests that there is resistance to early voting in the Northeast because most of these states administer elections at the township level.  McDonald is right to highlight the importance of providing sufficient funding to jurisdictions to conduct elections, regardless of what options are offered (budgets were the most common point of discussion at a recent NCSL gathering).  

All I’d add here is that we don’t have a clear sense of how much early voting costs, and whether cost savings can be obtained by strategically reallocating resources between early voting and election day voting (though mis-forecasts of voting turnout can turn disastrous). 

The takeaway is that states considering adding early voting options should consider them mostly on the grounds of voter convenience, on how well the options can be adapted to the conditions faced by local jurisdictions, and only lastly on how they may increase overall turnout. 

Post Election Hangover Edition: Links, Documents, and Guides to Understanding the Outcome

I posted on my Reed College introductory politics class “Moodle”.  I shared this on Facebook and getting a lot of requests to share more broadly.  Any questions about the class readings and other references below, please email paul@earlyvoting.net.

Folks,

I’ve spent the day trying to absorb and understand the election results, and I thought it might help to provide a list of resources where I am going to try to reason through this. I certainly don’t mind, and I’m sure Chris would not mind, if people want to talk, or rant, or celebrate, or protest.

We are not suggesting that you should be dispassionate or apolitical about the election outcome. I handle unexpected political changes by doing by best to deconstruct it and understand it. That’s my makeup. It need not be yours. Do what you will with below.

1) The 50,000 Foot Look:

I still think the best place to look and reflect is at a site that allows you to drill down to the county level, and compare vote changes from 2012. I prefer the NY Times, but I list a number of other sites below. Click through at these sites to see the various maps.

The best interactive maps in my opinion at the NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/elections/results/president

Great mix of maps and exit polls at BBC: http://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2016-37889032

USA Today does a better job displaying change in support http://www.usatoday.com/…/intera…/how-the-election-unfolded/

CNN has a different look and feel, not my choice but has very nice individual state results http://www.cnn.com/election/results

2) This election is a game changer and this election is a realignment

Most of the evidence is that this election reinforced the existing divisions between the two parties. What was surprising to many observers was that more Republicans did not abandon their party standard bearer, given a lack of endorsements and many leaders distancing themselves from Trump. If you are able to ignore that for a moment, Trump’s support coalition looks nearly identical to Romney’s. Clinton underperformed Obama, especially among African Americans and Latinos. That’s the election in a nutshell.

Larry Bartels at the Monkey Cage examines election 2016 https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/2016-was-an-ordinary-elec…/

3) What about race, ethnicity, gender? Didn’t the horrible things Trump said make a difference?

You know from our class that voters decide based on a wide variety of things–partisanship most importantly, then issues (mostly the economy), and then finally candidate characteristics. It has never been the case that candidate characteristics are the most important consideration. And it is often the case that attitudes about particular “single issues” can overwhelm everything else. While the things Trump said may matter a lot to you, you can’t expect that those same things matter to other people, who may believe in very different things and have very different life experiences. We won’t be able to answer this question in detail for a few months, but I suspect we are going to find not that many Trump voters did not completely ignore the things he said, but they heavily discounted them because of other concerns. And for another big chunk, race and ethnicity in particular get bound up with fear and discontent. That, unfortunately, is very common in the human condition.

This graphic from the NY Times summarizes Trump and Clinton support, compared to elections back to 2004, among key demographics. You may want to look at this first before following up on the links below.http://www.nytimes.com/…/…/elections/exit-poll-analysis.html

3a) On Gender: Clinton simply did not benefit much from her gender, at least that’s what the evidence indicates. Gender identity is very different from racial solidarity, so expecting the gender effect in 2016 to function like the race effect in 2012 and 2008 was probably wishful thinking, no matter how much gender identity may matter to you.

Michael Tesler at the Monkey Cage, with extensive citations to past work on the comparative weakness of gender identity.https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/why-the-gender-gap-doomed…/

3b) On Ethnicity (primarily Latinos): Evidence is far more mixed. The finding you are seeing in the press is that Trump received 29% of the Latino vote, which exceeds Romney’s margin by 9%. However, others are disputing this finding, critiquing the way the exit polls are conducted. This one will be debated for a while.

Matt Barreto of UCLA and Latino Decisions (and older brother of a recent Reed alum in political science) runs down why he thinks the exit polls overestimate Trump support among Latinos http://www.latinodecisions.com/…/the-rundown-on-latino-vot…/  (UPDATE: Nice article at the Monkey Cage.)

3c) On African American support: Clinton did not do as well as Obama among African Americans. If the 88% number holds, that’s down 5% from 2012. But what appears to have been more damaging is lower turnout overall, and this really hurt in states like Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.

Politico story on the number of African Americans in Florida who voted early in 2012 and did not in 2016, citing the work of political scientist Daniel Smith of University of Florida. http://www.politico.com/…/clinton-campaign-struggles-in-get…

Analysis of the exit poll data by political scientists Stanley Feldman and Melissa Herrman http://www.cbsnews.com/…/cbs-news-exit-polls-how-donald-tr…/

4) What about the polls and the forecasts? Does this indicate that polling and statistical forecasting is junk?

It may not surprise that my answer is “no.” There was a systematic miss for the polls, and consequently the forecasts, and the misses were all in red states. If the models were junk, they would have missed in the blue states as well. That means there was something going on in the red states that was missed by the political observers and political scientists who obviously need to scrutinize what they are doing. But your own fundamentals based forecasts predicted Clinton’s vote almost precisely, as did at least two of the forecasts in PS. Something is seriously amiss about Trump support, but there’s no evidence (yet) that there is something seriously amiss about the fundamental underpinnings of election science.

Andrew Gelman does a nice job showing the consistent miss in red states http://andrewgelman.com/…/polls-just-fine-blue-states-blew…/

Gelman shows how a comparatively small yet systematic 2% shift in support toward Trump appears to explain virtually all the “misses.”http://andrewgelman.com/…/11/09/explanations-shocking-2-sh…/

See also Nate Silver http://fivethirtyeight.com/…/what-a-difference-2-percentag…/

Silver reminds us (as you read in his book) that there is a tendency among people to refuse to acknowledge the meaning of uncertainty and probability. He’s to blame as much as anyone for producing these seemingly precise forecasts, but he’s not to blame for reporters and citizens not understanding uncertainty.
http://fivethirtyeight.com/…/final-election-update-theres-…/

E-Day Guide: Absentee Ballots and Election Night Results

Election day is all about ballot cast at the polling place, right?

 In fact, millions of absentee ballots will be arriving today at county elections offices. These ballots may have been delivered right on time by the postal service, or dropped off at a drop box, or hand carried into the local elections office.  

 In so called “postmark” states (Alaska, California, Illinois, Maryland, New York, North Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Utah), ballots need only be postmarked by November 8th (oddly enough, November 7th in Utah) and can arrive a few days to two weeks later. 

Finally, in a few states, such as Arizona,  Montana and California, you can even drop off your absentee ballot at the local polling place.  (Editor’s Note: If anyone knows a comprehensive list of these states, I’d appreciate a link.)

These late arriving ballots can easily make the difference in close races.  

In Multnomah County, OR, elections director Tim Scott estimates that anywhere from 110,000 to 150,000 ballots will arrive today–that’s more than 20% of the total registered voters in the county, so likely more than 30% of the final tally!  Statewide, assuming total turnout of 80%, nearly 500,000 ballots that will be making their way into county offices today. 

In Maricopa County, AZ, the second largest election jurisdiction in the country, over 100,000 ballots are typically dropped off on election day, according to Tammy Patrick of the Bipartisan Policy Center  who worked in Maricopa for a number of years. 

What happens to these absentee ballots?  Are they counted immediately or are they counted at the close of polls?  What about the absentee ballots that arrived prior to Election Day?  I’ve received a flurry of questions about this today.

The quick answer is that in most states, absentee ballots are processed as they arrive.  The ballots are scanned but not counted, and tallying doesn’t occur until Election Day (in some states, at the start of the business day, in some states, after the polls close.  The “scanning” vs.”tallying”  distinction is important–election officials can’t just walk into a room and glance at vote totals–because no totals exist.  Totals are only calculated when a particular form or report is created.  

This means that in most states, the first results will include absentee ballots that arrived prior to Election Day, but will almost certainly not include ballots that arrived on Election Day. 

The late arriving ballots will generally not even begin to be processed until Wednesday.  While this may frustrate politicians, their supporters, and Americans who want to see an announcement of the final results, the delay is necessary to assure the security and integrity of our elections system.

First, in many states, absentee ballots cannot be processed before the close of the polls because election officials have to check to make sure that no one has voted twice, once by absentee ballot and a second time at a polling place.  This is the kind of security measure that exists in the American election system and is often ignored by those making unsubstantiated charges of “rigging.” 

Next, the absentee ballots need to be processed.  This involves a multistep
process:

  • Signatures need to be verified
  • Ballots need to be separated from the outside envelope
  • In some states, ballots need to be inspected (and potentially “remade”) so they can be read by the machines.

After all these steps are completed, the ballots can be scanned and the votes counted.

In most states, none of this will happen on election night, when election officials have already worked a very long and arduous day.  Election officials need their beauty sleep, just like the rest of us!  

And they’ll be working hard to provide full and accurate results for days and weeks after November 8th. 

 

Early Voting: The E-Day Minus One Edition

We have nearly final figures on the early voting totals in each state, and the ballot return rates continue to force us to reconsider many of our previous assumptions about who votes early and where early voting is most popular.

ev_as_ev

Early voting as a percent of the 2012 early vote, as shown in the first map, is blowing old totals out of the water. Charles Stewart has reported on the pace of early voting in North Carolina  and Daniel Smith has been doing the same for Florida.   Other states with extraordinarily high numbers compared to 2012 include Arizona (106%), Georgia (124%), Maryland (167%), and Nevada (109%).  As I noted in an early posting, the Massachusetts and Minnesota numbers are misleading because they have relaxed their early voting laws. 

These numbers are more impressive when viewed as a proportion of the total 2012 vote.  This indicates higher turnout overall, or an electorate that is switching wholesale to early voting.  In either case, it means that in the states that rank high on this list (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington), it’s not going to be enough any more to have an election day GOTV operation.

Election day is rapidly becoming election week(s) in many parts of the country. 

ev_as_total

EV as Percent of Total 2012 Vote EV as Percent of Total 2012 Vote

Just wow, that’s all I can say.  Off to class!

ev_as_total

Early Voting 2016: Halloween Edition! Early Voting 2016: Halloween Edition!

(This post co-written by Paul Gronke and Brian Hamel, Department of Political Science, UCLA)

Even the prospects of ghosts, goblins, Russian hackers, and Wikileaked emails don’t seem to be able to stem the tide of early voters in 2016. It’s truly a historically early early vote total nationwide.  (Take that sentence, Doug!)   

Five days ago, we reported that in a number of key battleground states, close to 50% of all early votes cast in 2012 had already been cast in 2016. With less than a week till Election Day, these numbers continue to climb

 

ev-as-percent-of-ev

The highest rate is in Louisiana, where the total early votes cast this cycle have already exceeded the total cast in 2012 over six more days of balloting.  Sec’y Tom Schedler talked about this last week at the Bipartisan Policy Center.  This may be a result of good election planning.  After all, if the Tigers beat ‘Bama this Saturday, there could be a few folks who won’t wake up until after Election Day! Something unique is happening in the Bayou State.

Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee are also showing very high ballot return numbers, at or exceeding 80% of the 2012 totals.  

Overall, twenty-nine states have racked up more than half as many early votes as were cast over the full early voting period.  For many states last week, these totals only included no-excuse, vote by mail ballots, but now millions of more voters are heading to early in-person voting locations in most major battleground states.  

Out of Politico’s eleven battleground states, in fact, only New Hampshire and Pennsylvania don’t report more than half of the early vote has already been cast (if we use 2012 as a baseline).   This is going to create a huge problem for Donald Trump if, as some sources report, his early vote targeting operation lags Hillary Clinton’s. 

The numbers look even more forbidding for Trump if you look at the early vote totals as a percentage of the total 2012 vote.  These numbers have to be viewed with a bit of caution; state registration totals will have grown and shrunk during this period, and 2012 voter turnout is obviously an imperfect predictor of 2016 total.  However, these numbers aren’t going to have moved that much, and more importantly, the relative position of states will have changed even less. 

 

ev_percent_total_10-31

In Florida, nearly a requirement for a Trump victory, early votes exceed 44% of all votes cast in 2012.  In Nevada, not a key to a Trump victory, but a state that Harry Reid wants to deliver for Clinton, 45% of the 2012 total has already been cast.  In Tennessee, things are looking brighter for Trump–over half of the 2012 totals are in the books, although we have no data on the partisan breakdown of these ballots.

Michael McDonald notes that only in Nevada do the party ballot return totals indicate a clear Democratic advantage, and the election electorate will break for Trump (it has to if more Democratic votes are cast early). Still, this may mean that Clinton can redeploy her targeting resources in Florida and other states in a way that Trump may not be able to. 

These stunning figures could be the result of a number of factors, including voters simply responding to the convenience of early voting, the intensity of the campaign, the distinctiveness of the candidates, increased attention from the campaigns and parties on early voting mobilization, or any combination of the three. What is clear, however, is that early voting could be a key indicator of who is winning the horse race.

Data courtesy of Michael McDonald and the United States Election project.