Dems Holding Their Own In Early Voting Numbers

October 23, 2010 8:31 a.m.
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When is the 2010 election being held? You might think it’s on November 2, 2010. But it’s actually going on right now — and the Democrats aren’t doing all that badly.

Thanks to liberalized absentee and early-voting laws, “Election Day” has in many ways become “Election Few Weeks,” a process of the polls being open for an extended period of time and finally closing on that busy Tuesday in November. These laws were widely brought in after the 2000 election, which was characterized by problems of overcrowded polling places, in order to take some of that load off. What it has ended up leading to, as an additional consequence, are active get-out-the-vote efforts by parties eager to bank some early vote leads. Indeed, roughly one-third of all votes in 2008 were cast early or absentee, a statistic that shows how the process has become an integral part of our elections today.

As the Associated Press reports, over three million voters have already cast their ballots this time. Due to the secret ballot, we cannot know how they voted — but in many cases, the media is able to find out who voted, thanks to partisan voter registrations in many states. And across the country, both the Dems and the GOP are performing well in different spots.“Since midterms are a patchwork of local contests, we’d expect one party to do well in some places and the other party in other places, depending on candidates, their GOTV expenditures, and the relative strength of the state and district political parties,” Professor Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia told TPMDC. “Take Nevada. Obama’s team organized Nevada better than anybody ever has. Those lists are fresh. Democrats have kept the lists fresh. If Reid wins narrowly, we’ll probably attribute the victory to GOTV–and Angle’s goofy statements, of course.”

So here are some key examples:

• In Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in what is arguably the single hottest Senate race in the country, Jon Ralston reports on the progress so far in the state’s main population center, Clark County: “In 2006, the last midterm election, Republicans turned out by 2.1 percent more in early voting in Clark County after all was said and done. They have a 1.4 percent edge through Thursday, meaning it could get as high as 3 percent or so, if nothing unusual happens. But even if they get to 3 percent, the Democrats have a much larger registration advantage because of that surge in 2007 and 2008, so it would be a wash.”

• In Ohio, the AP reports: “Ohio’s early voting trends reflect the state’s swing-voting status: Democrats are ahead in the party stronghold of Cuyahoga County around Cleveland, while Republicans lead in GOP territory of Hamilton County, which is home to Cincinnati. Ballots are virtually even in Franklin County, which anchors fickle central Ohio.”

• In Iowa, the AP says: “More than 189,000 people have cast ballots, about 46 percent of them Democrats and 38 percent Republicans. That’s a somewhat narrower gap than the Democrats’ 11-point advantage in registered voters.”

• In Florida, the St. Petersburg Times reports, Republicans hold an early edge in turnout — while the Democrats are playing down the significance at this point in the game: “The first three days of early voting, coupled with returned absentee or mail ballots, show Republicans outpacing Democrats by 148,000 voters, according to figures provided by both political parties. The Democrats noted that Republicans had an almost identical advantage at this point in the last off-year election in 2006, in which Democrats Alex Sink and Bill Nelson won statewide races for chief financial officer and U.S. Senate.”

• Another possible dull spot for Democrats could be Wisconsin, where Sen. Russ Feingold is facing a tough re-election fight. The Green Bay Press Gazette reports where early voting is down sharply from 2008. For example: “In Milwaukee, only about 100 people a day were voting absentee in person, said Neil Albrecht, deputy director of the Milwaukee Election Commission. That compares with more than 1,100 a day who voted absentee in 2008.” On the other hand, the Daily Cardinal reports, top Democrats such as DNC Chair Tim Kaine have just visited the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, holding a rally to kick the early vote into gear. (Wisconsin does not have voter registration by party identification. Therefore, we cannot know how many Democrats or Republicans are voting, though it’s possible that inferences could be made from the geographic distributions.)

As the Washington Post reports, the Democratic political consulting firm the Atlas Project says that Dem turnout right now is better than it was in the early voting for the last midterm election, the Democratic wave year of 2006. “In many states, it even appears that the electorate so far is a little more Democratic than in 2006, although it is still early in the early voting process,” reported the firm. “Further, in some states like Georgia, Florida, Michigan and North Carolina, African Americans in particular seem to be making up a greater proportion of early voters at this point than in 2006.”

Of course, these early vote reports don’t promise anything in the way of results. It is very possible for a party to win the early vote, but substantially lose on Election Day to the point of flipping the result. (As just one example, this very thing happened to Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary in Texas, against Hillary Clinton.) Another thing that can’t really be determined is how many people turning out early are simply folks who would have voted on Election Day if the early-vote option had not been available — thus merely shifting the numbers of GOTV efforts, rather than representing true gains.

Democrats could do great in early voting and still get swamped in the elections — or vice versa, and there could be a mix of results across the states. But all of this does give us a clue about who’s casting ballots so far.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated since it was first published.

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