Since early voting began this election cycle, and since it has become apparent that turnout among registered Democrats has been higher than among registered Republicans in some states, an important question has been raised: does public knowledge of who is voting early affect the outcome of the election?
This is an excellent question for which we, unfortunately, don’t have an answer. Yet.
There are a couple things to keep in mind, however, when searching for possible conclusions.
We do not know how individuals voted, we only know if a voter is registered Democrat or Republican. This may be an indicator of how they have or will vote, but voters do not always cast ballots for the same party with which they are registered.
This said, it is difficult to ignore the fact that Democrats in many states that allow early voting have cast more ballots than their Republican counterparts. (See EVIC’s previous posts or articles in USA Today and BBC News.) Might just knowing this, might just the impression that there have been more ballots cast for the Democratic candidate affect the outcome of the election, whether or not it is true?
A question I am sure we will ponder in the months to come…
Interesting things to report from Georgia. First, the early voting turnout has already broken previous records. In 2004, around 20% of the 3.3 million voters cast their ballots early. As of today, the state reports that 1,206,981 ballots have already been cast in this election–22% of Georgia’s registered voters. Advance voting is open in the state until Friday; I predict significant further increases.
The state also provides a limited racial breakdown for early voters. The graphs below show slightly different things. On the left, a straight breakdown of the number of votes cast by racial group. Nothing looks too surprising about this graph–white voters are overwhelmingly the dominant racial group in state.
The graph on the right, however, shows the percentage of votes cast against registered voters within each racial group. This, again, yields the interesting finding that African-Americans are voting early at higher rates that whites, in proportion to their group size. The trend continues.
Georgia is unexpectedly close this year, and it remains to be seen how good the pollsters’ “likely voter” models are.
We had heard tell that Nevada had high rates of Democratic turnout, and the data confirm it. The state is a battleground this year, and the early vote will be crucial: Nevada is traditionally a big user of advance voting—in 2004, 52% of those who voted did so early.
The graphs below show early in-person voting rates in Clark and Washoe Counties, which include the Reno and Las Vegas metropolitan areas, and account for around 87% of the population of Nevada.U.S. Census Bureau estimate
Since these numbers don’t include the more rural areas outside of Reno and Vegas, they probably slightly understate the Republican vote. If so however, it’s not by much—the totals are not far from the statewide figures reported by Nevada’s Secretary of State. (Clark County, in particular, simply contains a huge part of the state’s population.)
It’s Sunday night, and the end of the first week of early voting. We have a variety of data to show you tonight. First up, battleground Florida.
Just as we’ve seen in many other early voting states this year, Florida has high rates of Democratic turnout. Democrats appear to be voting early at nearly twice the rate of Republicans—notable in a state where the two parties’ registered voter totals are roughly equal.
On the other hand, it’s important to note that these are only early in-person figures. Florida law restricts the dissemination of reports about absentee by-mail activity to registered political parties. Professor Michael McDonald, with better contacts than I, reports that combined early votes in the state are actually evenly split between in-person and by-mail ballots. Normally, we would expect those mail voters to trend more Republican, and that’s essentially what McDonald finds: when the two modes are combined, Democrats have cast 44.3% of the ballots, while GOP votes account for 40.5% of the total.
The combined data also reveal that 26% of the state’s registered voters have now voted early. And we’re not nearly finished: past experience suggests that the second week will yield even higher early in-person returns.
We are also able to attach these early in-person voting data to the state’s voter registration file, which yields interesting demographic detail. You should be aware that our registration files were obtained earlier in the summer, so we are missing information for any voters who registered more recently (this explains the unusually high rate of ‘unknowns’ in our statistics). Still, we’ve plenty of data from which to draw interesting conclusions. I’ll start with race.
The graph on the left shows cumulative early voting rates by day and by race (which I’ve combined into white, black, hispanic, and other or unknown). The bar graph on the right breaks down the ballots cast into by race, and again within those categories by party registration. (The combined total of all the bars on the graph equals the total number of ballots cast.)
As in North Carolina, we’re seeing unusually high rates of African-American early voting. Blacks account for approximately 14% of the registered voters in Florida, but approximately 20% of the early in-person vote. (And look at the bar graph: they are staggering Democratic.) Assuming that voters cast their ballot in line with their party affilliation—given that this is a secret ballot, that’s all we have available—the coveted Hispanic vote appears to be roughly equally divided between Democrat and Republican.
Watch those “unknowns” though—most of the voters in this category have newly registered since we obtained the registration database in the summer. As the graph on the right shows, the majority of these new voters affiliate with the Democrats. Evidence of a successful get-out-the-vote drive for the Obama campaign?
The breakdown of early in-person votes by age is very similar for both parties, although Republicans again show a tendency to be slightly older. The mean age of Republican voters is 58, compared to 55 for the Democrats, and the shape of the graph conveys this disparity. Of particular interest is the graph of non-affiliated early voters, who show a marked tendency to be younger—the mean age is just 52. Note how this graph skews more toward younger voters.
So, what conclusions to draw? It’s hard to say: the campaigns have vast operations in Florida, and voters on both sides appear to be well motivated. I expect early turnout to break previous records, but the high turnout may simply be a function of extraordinary participation across the board for this election. Neither party appears to have a clear advantage at this stage—although the high African-American turnout must be good news for the Obama campaign.
Following my earlier post about high early voting rates in North Carolina, we’ve had a little longer to play with the extensive live data provided by its State Board of Elections. There are some notable patterns in demography.
Traditionally, academics have found evidence that early voters tend to be white, well-educated, and wealthier than the average voter.Paul Gronke and Daniel Toffey. 2008. “The Psychological and Institutional Determinants of Early Voting.” Journal of Social Issues 64.3: 503-524. There’s also a tendency for them to vote Republican (President Bush won 60% of the nationwide early vote in 2004).
However, as the graphs below show, African-Americans are currently voting early at almost half the rate of whites. This large percentage not only belies the conventional wisdom about who votes early, but is also well out of proportion to the population of black citizens in North Carolina. African-Americans only account for around 20% of registered voters in the state.
The obvious follow-up question: who are these African-Americans voting for? Well, you probably know the answer, and the high rates of Democratic turnout should be a clue, but here’s the breakdown of these voters’ registered party affiliations. Striking.
|The First Week: NC’s “Onestop” Early Voters|
|Data captured on 10/24, at 01:30 PST|
The breakdowns by age are more in line with expectations, and there don’t appear to be strong differences between Republicans and Democrats. The Republican peak is clearly a little older (in the 60s), although overall the mean age of Democratic voters is only slightly (1.5 years) lower. Note the little spike at the young end for both parties though!
Statement Regarding the MSNBC Map for Early Voting
October 23, 2008
Paul Gronke, Early Voting Information Center
MSNBC published on their website a map describing which states allow no-excuse early voting in the 2008 election cycle. The map was based on information obtained from the Early Voting Information Center (earlyvoting.net).
The information was collected to follow early voting in the 2008 primary. The chart clearly stated that the information had not been updated since February 2008. Some states have changed their laws since that time, and we have labored to keep up with a rapidly changing terrain of early voting.
In addition, we note clearly on the webpage that there are conflicting interpretations of what constitutes “early in person” and “absentee” voting. We use “early in person” voting to describe situations where a citizen shows up at an elections office or satellite location and votes in most respects like on election day–checking in with a government official, signing in on a poll book, and casting a ballot on a voting machine.
We use “absentee” voting to describe situations where citizens request an absentee ballot, which is usually delivered to them by mail, and then they return this ballot, most often by mail. Many states do not require an excuse in order to vote absentee (“no excuse”), while some states retain the requirement that a voter provide an excuse.
However, an increasing number of states allow citizens to show up in person at a local elections office, request an absentee ballot, and fill out the ballot right there. We have chosen to call this “early in person absentee balloting” but some states describe this as “early in person voting.” Obviously, EVIC cannot establish a set of definitions for all states.
This information used by MSNBC was used without prior consultation with EVIC and the included some information that was out of date. The information has been updated to the best of our abilities. We apologize for any misinterpretations that have been based on the map produced by MSNBC, although we played no part in the production of the map.
Finally, MSNBC included on their map only early in person voting. They ignored the columns that described “by mail” voting which is why WA and OR are mislabeled on the map.
Conny McCormack, formerly of the LA County elections office, reviewed Florida elections in two large counties (Hillsborough and Miami-Dade) during their fall primary. She warns of the high likelihood of long lines during early voting–a prediction that is coming all too true.
The first data from North Carolina show the trend that we’ve seen in many states across the country so far––soaring rates of early voting, across party lines. The graphs below show rates of “one-stop” (in-person early) voting in the state. I’ve included our graphs from 2004 for comparison.
On the first day alone, around twice the number of Republican and non-affiliated voters turned out compared to 2004, while Democrats showed a remarkable 400% increase on the earlier election. Looking at the cumulative returns, we can see that Democrats have cast nearly as many votes in the first five days as they did in the entire one-stop voting period in 2004.
Click any of the graphs for a larger image.
Welcome to a preview of EVIC’s new and improved website. We know we’re a little late to the game––early voting is already well underway, as you know from the huge press coverage it is receiving.
All the same, we hope to use this website as a clearinghouse for some of the more important and notable early and absentee voting news over the next two to three weeks. In addition to some analysis of events, we’ll also be posting graphs of early voting (see our historical archive) ballot trends in major battleground states, data permitting.
You can still access all the information from our old site. Ultimately though, this new format will serve as the engine for EVIC’s new website in the Winter; consider this a soft launch!
This article is a brief overview of the place that election law scholarship can play in undergraduate education.