Vot­ers are al­ready stream­ing to polls in record num­bers

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Nation - BY EVAN HALPER AND MAYA SWEEDLER Los An­ge­les Times

Vot­ers across the coun­try have been crowd­ing into polling places and mail­ing in bal­lots in num­bers rarely seen in an off-year elec­tion.

In some states, more peo­ple are on track to cast bal­lots in early vot­ing than in the en­tire elec­tion in 2014. In Texas, one such state, hun­dreds of thou­sands of new vot­ers have al­ready par­tic­i­pated. Democrats hope that surge in­di­cates that their Se­nate can­di­date, Beto O’Rourke, may be suc­ceed­ing in mo­bi­liz­ing a cru­cial de­mo­graphic.

The pic­ture in Cal­i­for­nia so far is more sta­tus quo. The state has at least a half dozen hotly con­tested con­gres­sional dis­tricts, which could play a big role in whether Democrats take back a ma­jor­ity in the House. But in the rest of the state, the lack of a close race at the top of ticket is hold­ing down turnout, said Paul Mitchell, vice pres­i­dent of Po­lit­i­cal Data, which com­piles voter data in the state.

Cal­i­for­nia was one of the coun­try’s pi­o­neers in wide­spread early vot­ing, and at this point, a large ma­jor­ity of vot­ers get their bal­lots in the mail and ei­ther send them back or drop them at a polling sta­tion. About 3 mil­lion bal­lots were cast in the state by Fri­day.

Na­tion­wide, as early vot­ing was com­ing to a close in many states Fri­day, more than 30 mil­lion bal­lots had al­ready been cast. Turnout is hit­ting a pace closer to what’s typ­i­cally seen in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. It has the po­ten­tial to be the high­est in an off-year elec­tion since 1966.

“When you look at some of th­ese states, the num­bers are eye-pop­ping,” said Michael McDon­ald, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Florida and one of the coun­try’s lead­ing ex­perts on vot­ing pat­terns.

Midterm elec­tions typ­i­cally draw far fewer vot­ers than pres­i­den­tial con­tests. In 2016, about 60 per­cent of vot­ing-el­i­gi­ble Amer­i­cans cast bal­lots, ac­cord­ing to McDon­ald’s com­pi­la­tions of state data. In 2014, only 37 per­cent voted — the low­est turnout in years. The trends so far in­di­cate that close to half of those el­i­gi­ble will vote this time, McDon­ald es­ti­mated.

Be­cause Democrats rely heav­ily on the votes of younger peo­ple and mi­nori­ties, who are less con­sis­tent in their vot­ing than are older whites, their can­di­dates usu­ally ben­e­fit from a higher turnout.

As a re­sult, Democrats hope that the num­bers so far point to a much-bal­ly­hooed “blue wave,” but they are re­luc­tant to say so. Mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of early vot­ing trends in 2016 led to em­bar­rass­ment af­ter Don­ald Trump’s sur­prise vic­tory.

Early vot­ing fig­ures can eas­ily mis­lead. States re­lease a trove of data about the vot­ers — in­for­ma­tion on their party af­fil­i­a­tions, vot­ing his­tory, age and so on. But no one knows what can­di­dates they are vot­ing for. Nor can any­one be sure whether peo­ple who vote early are the same vot­ers who would have oth­er­wise shown up Tues­day.

In Texas, both O’Rourke and in­cum­bent Sen. Ted Cruz sug­gested the state’s huge early turnout would boost their cam­paigns. Texas is still a deeply con­ser­va­tive place, and more vot­ers com­ing to the polls can only mean more sup­port for him, Cruz sug­gested in a CBS

“60 Min­utes” seg­ment re­leased Fri­day.

O’Rourke said much the same on the show: “The more peo­ple who show up, the bet­ter we do.”

If cur­rent trends hold, about 3 mil­lion more peo­ple will vote this year in Texas than did in the last midterm, in 2014, said Tom Bonier, CEO of Tar­get- Smart, a Demo­cratic data firm track­ing early vot­ing.

The state is also draw­ing first-time vot­ers to the polls. Al­ready, Bonier said, more than 300,000 peo­ple who were el­i­gi­ble to vote in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion but did not vote have cast bal­lots in Texas.

“Texas is lead­ing the way by a long shot in first-time vot­ing,” Bonier said. “It is not nearly as much a fac­tor in other states.”

In Ge­or­gia, vot­ers younger than 30 have been casting early bal­lots at quadru­ple the rate they did in

2014. In Texas and Ne­vada, vot­ing by young peo­ple is up five­fold. The rate is triple in Ari­zona, ac­cord­ing to Tar­getS­mart.

In Ne­vada, Democrats have built a small but per­sis­tent statewide lead in early votes, said Jon Ral­ston of the Ne­vada In­de­pen­dent, who tracks the state’s vote.

Some bell­wether dis­tricts in the Mid­west also have pro­vided en­cour­ag­ing signs for Democrats. One is Iowa’s 1st Con­gres­sional District, lo­cated in a swing re­gion where vot­ing an­a­lysts first started to no­tice a mi­gra­tion to­ward the Repub­li­can Party as early bal­lots were cast in 2016.

Now, regis­tered Democrats are show­ing back up in force. The party bal­ance is 10 points more fa­vor­able to the Democrats than it was at this point in 2016, McDon­ald said.

“Th­ese are huge changes,” McDon­ald said. “It sig­nals en­thu­si­asm among Democrats and that Repub­li­cans are not as en­gaged in th­ese key swing dis­tricts they will need.”

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