States see big early bal­lot turnout

Surge sur­passes to­tals from midterm elec­tions four years ago

The Progress-Index Weekend - - OBITUARIES -

AT­LANTA — More than 30 mil­lion Amer­i­cans have cast early bal­lots ahead of Tues­day’s midterm elec­tions, eclips­ing the 2014 early to­tals na­tion­ally and sug­gest­ing a high over­all turnout for con­tests that could de­fine the fi­nal two years of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s term.

At least 28 states have sur­passed their 2014 early votes. And per­haps even more in­dica­tive of the un­usual en­thu­si­asm this midterm cy­cle, some states are ap­proach­ing their early turnout from the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Here’s a look at some high­lights:

Ma­sive turnout

The 30.6 mil­lion bal­lots in­cludes data from 48 states, with sev­eral of those still col­lect­ing ab­sen­tee bal­lots and wel­com­ing in­per­son early vot­ers. The to­tal early vote in 2014 was 28.3 mil­lion in an elec­tion where more than 83 mil­lion Amer­i­cans voted. That was a low turnout (about 36 per­cent) even by usual stan­dards of a midterm, when there’s an ex­pected drop off from pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

Fore­cast­ers aren’t pre­dict­ing that over­all turnout this year will hit 2016 lev­els (137.5 mil­lion; more than 60 per­cent of the elec­torate), but Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can an­a­lysts, along with in­de­pen­dent po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists, say turnout could ap­proach 50 per­cent, lev­els not seen for a midterm since the tur­bu­lent 1960s.

Some states not used to ex­cit­ing midterms

It’s one thing to see Vir­ginia more than dou­bling its 2014 early turnout. Vot­ers there showed their in­ten­sity last year in their gover­nor’s race, with record ab­sen­tee bal­lot re­quests and re­turns and a solid turnout for both par­ties.

But then there’s Ten­nessee. The state has set­tled firmly into Repub­li­can-dom­i­nated ter­ri­tory. In 2014, there wasn’t a sin­gle statewide race that re­ceived na­tional at­ten­tion or a truly com­pet­i­tive House elec­tion.

But with an open Se­nate seat thanks to the re­tire­ment of Repub­li­can Bob Corker, vot­ers are more than ea­ger this year. Through Thurs­day, early turnout was 217 per­cent of what it was in 2014. It’s even ap­proach­ing early turnout from 2016, at 80 per­cent of that pres­i­den­tial-year mark.

Sev­eral other states with com­pet­i­tive Se­nate or gover­nor’s races — Texas, Ne­vada, Ge­or­gia, among oth­ers — are near­ing dou­ble the 2014 early to­tals.

Democrats edg­ing Repub­li­cans na­tion­ally

In states that re­quire party reg­is­tra­tion, Democrats have cast 41 per­cent of the early bal­lots, com­pared to 36 per­cent for Repub­li­cans. Party strate­gists on both sides say they are far ex­ceed­ing their usual num­bers in key lo­cales — ur­ban strongholds for Democrats and more ru­ral coun­ties for Repub­li­cans.

A word of cau­tion from prog­nos­ti­ca­tors: The party anal­y­sis isn’t al­ways an in­di­ca­tor of fi­nal out­comes. There are cross­over vot­ers, even in this hy­per­par­ti­san era. And there are in­de­pen­dents and third­party vot­ers, as well. For the record, those lat­ter groups ac­count for about 23 per­cent of the bal­lots in party reg­is­tra­tion states.

For the score­keep­ers, though, Vir­ginia, among the states that doesn’t have party reg­is­tra­tion, is repli­cat­ing its 2017 vot­ing boom — and Democrats swept the top of­fices last year even amid strong GOP turnout.

Young vot­ers in Florida

Trends in Florida’s early vot­ing sug­gest a surge in young vot­ers, a group that his­tor­i­cally has low turnout in midterm cy­cles.

Of the 124,000 Florid­i­ans aged 18 to 29 who had voted in per­son at early polling sta­tions as of Thurs­day, nearly a third did not vote in the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 2016, ac­cord­ing to anal­y­sis by Univer­sity of Florida po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor Daniel Smith. About half of those new vot­ers were newly reg­is­tered.

“There are newly en­er­gized vot­ers who sat out in 2016, or have reg­is­tered since then, who are turn­ing out. There’s no ques­tion about that,” Smith said.

In con­trast, for peo­ple 65 and older who had voted early and in per­son, about 7 per­cent didn’t vote in 2016.

New Ge­or­gia vot­ers

It can­not be said enough: It’s the vot­ers who don’t of­ten par­tic­i­pate in midterms who can make the big dif­fer­ence. There’s plenty of ev­i­dence that both ma­jor par­ties’ bases are en­thu­si­as­tic, but a fre­quent Elec­tion Day voter be­ing so ex­cited that they vote early doesn’t change the math.

So can­di­dates like Demo­crat Stacey Abrams and Repub­li­can Brian Kemp in the Ge­or­gia gover­nor’s race are keep­ing their eye on how many non-2014 vot­ers have cast bal­lots.

An anal­y­sis by Ge­or­giabased data an­a­lyst Ryan An­der­son finds that 36 per­cent of the 1.8 mil­lion early votes in Ge­or­gia are new vot­ers. If that held through Elec­tion Day, it would be a huge num­ber. Abrams’ cam­paign be­lieves it would ben­e­fit them, though Repub­li­cans na­tion­ally note that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump brought many new vot­ers to the polls in 2016 — and those vot­ers are still “new” midterm vot­ers.

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