Impact of early voting

Early voting turnout as % of votes cast; Source: http://elections.gmu.edu/CPS_2008.html

Citizens voting before Election day continues to increase as the above graph shows from Current Population Survey data.  [The CPS didn’t ask about early voting in the early 1980s.]

Early voting is lower in the off-presidential years, but party experts speculate that a third or more of voters could vote early in the 2010 election, as high or higher than the 2008 presidential election.

“This year, the District and 32 states, including Maryland, allow some form of early voting….Increasingly, states are making it easier for people to vote early, allowing “no excuse” mail-in ballots and automatically sending ballots to voters who voted by mail in the past…. In some states that make early voting especially easy – such as Nevada, where voting booths can be found in health clubs, libraries, supermarkets and shopping malls – it could be much higher. In the last election, 60 percent of Nevadans voted early.” (Washington Post, “Democrats hope early voters will give them an edge“, 10/20/10)  [For a graphic of which states allow voting when, see the Early Voting Center.]

For sure this changes election strategy, pushing candidates not to hold as much of their advertising until the final days of the campaign, to reconsider their approach about last minute negative campaigning, and to invest more resources up front in a GOTEV (get out the early vote) operation.  And in some states, voters may be locking in their votes before they even hear candidates debate, undermining some of the deliberation in our electoral process.

The Post’s headline focuses on the hope for Democrats but signs seem more mixed.  For sure Democrats are trying to rebuild the grassroots machine that helped lift Obama to victory in 2008.  In some states, like Iowa, early voting turnout is up both among Democrats and GOP in 2010.

Democrats hope early voting will change the tide in Senate races in Nevada, Colorado and Washington.   But Politico reports that “In [Nevada’s] Reno’s Washoe County and Las Vegas’ Clark County, Republican turnout was disproportionately high over the first three voting days, according to local election officials. The two counties together make up 86 percent of the state’s voter population.”

Republicans also seem to be early voters in North Carolina. For example, the “largest group of early voters in North Carolina is made up of white Republican men, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Democracy North Carolina, a campaign watchdog group.” Even though “[d]uring the 2008 Democratic sweep, black Democratic women led all groups during the 17 days of early voting.”

Michael McDonald, voting guru at GMU, summarizes the state of play as “This is the big test election to see if voter mobilization really has an effect on turnout….And at least according to the very earliest early-voting numbers, people who thought the Democrats were going to roll over and play dead, that’s not what’s happening.”

Stay tuned…

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