The geography of early voting, 2016 edition

(This is a guest posting from Brian Hamel, PhD student in the Department of Political Science at UCLA)

Early ballots are flowing in rapidly to local election officials throughout the country. As of October 26, according to Michael McDonald of the United States Election Project, over 12 million ballots have been processed.  

This is a stunning figure, given that we are 13 days away from Election Day and 10 days before a number of key battleground states end early in-person voting. (You can find the whole early voting “schedule” on our Early Voting Calendar)  

Even more surprising is how many early votes have already been cast as a percentage of all early votes cast in 2012. To illustrate this, we used McDonald’s data and display early voting rates (darker red indicate a larger percentage of early ballots cast in 2016 as a percentage of all early ballots cast four years ago).


As shown, in a number of states, these figures approach or even exceed 50%. This is particularly true of a number of key battleground states. For example, in Florida, Iowa, and Virginia, 42.5%, 49.9%, and 49.2%, respectively, of 2012 early ballots have already been cast in 2016. We also see one of the largest shares in Arizona (50.7%), a traditionally red state where Clinton and Trump are in a statistical dead heat  and where Clinton recently placed a $2 million ad buy .

These figures suggest that early voting is becoming an increasingly important aspect of American elections. Observers have long noted the sheer convenience of early voting, and the trend over just four years suggests that voters are responding to the convenience of these options.

Indeed, these trends are likely to structure campaign strategy over the final few weeks, as campaigns look to early voting returns—and the partisan breakdown of these returns—before deploying their resources. Stay tuned for more data and commentary on early voting in 2016!