Absentee ballot returns are piling up in Florida, and both campaigns are trying to spin the numbers.
Bloomberg reports that 275,000 ballots have come back, 44% from registered Republicans and 40% from registered Democrats. As long time readers of this blog know, Republican voters have historically used the absentee / by mail option more than Democrats, so the fact that these numbers are so close leaves Dave Weldon, a former member of Congress working on the Romney campaign, “certainly concerned.”
You haven’t seen any analysis of these data here, however, because of an anomaly in Florida law. Absentee ballot requests and returns are
…exempt from state public records law. Political parties and candidates are able to obtain and release the information.
I describe this as anomalous because Florida early in-person voting returns are easily accessible on the Internet. There is no reason to provide one piece of information and not the other, since they are in essence the same thing–early ballot returns–and only vary by mode.
This makes it very difficult to assess the real information from the absentee returns. Both campaigns have surely compared the return rates to voter history files, which provide information on past voter turnout, including the mode of balloting. This same information is contained in the vote mobilization files assembled on the Dem side by Catalist and the GOP side by VoterVault. The rest of us are forced to rely on the information released by the campaigns and by overall totals released by the state.
And is there good reason to think there has been change since 2008?
Yes there is–as Bloomberg reports:
Democrats have closed the gap by targeting voters who might not have otherwise cast a ballot, said Eric Jotkoff, communications director for Obama in Florida. The Democrats’ focus on absentee voting followed a state law last year that cut early voting at the polls from 15 to eight days.
This makes it very difficult to draw any firm conclusions from the absentee voter data at this point.
I have been slashing away at the North Carolina absentee ballot file tonight, just to show the students what kind of ballot tracking goes in under the early voting regime.
One thing I stress at this point: there is not a lot to be learned. I know reporters love to see these early numbers as indicators of something about the campaign, but we are talking about only 134,00o total ballot requests, and as you can see by the figure, only about a quarter have been returned.
The total expected turnout in North Carolina is well over four million.
In short, this ain’t a lot of ballots. The pictures are pretty, but there is not a lot you can conclude.
P.S. To my Political Science 311 students: you’ll be generating these graphs after break!
Nice story by Jeff Zeleny. Sorry I missed his phone call! I love Michael McDonald, but “studies early voting.” Um….
Early in-person voting starts this week in Idaho and South Dakota!
Michael McDonald has already been tracking no-excuse absentee ballots in a number of states.
Data definitely ARE beautiful, as is correct grammatical usage.
If officials are skeptical of the merit of the residual vote rate, one source that illustrates its merits is the “Residual Voting in Florida” report coauthored by me and Charles Stewart. Look in particular at pg. 55-56, which I humbly suggest is a perfect illustration of Doug’s point.
Using data from Florida, we identify the two highest residual vote rate precincts in the state–two precincts that are wholly contained within elder care facilities. We further show that the rate in the two precincts is completely driven by high error rates on absentee ballots.
We can’t diagnose the disease in full. It may be that elderly citizens are making more errors because they can’t ask for help from poll workers when completing the ballot. It may be that the text is printed too small, causing difficulties for citizens with vision impairment. Or perhaps the ballot itself is confusing in unexpected ways.
But at least now we know where to look.
The takeaway chart is here: