Politics & Policy

Dissecting the Early-Vote Counts

Voters pack a polling place in San Diego, Calif., November 7, 2016. (Reuters photo: Mike Blake)
Americans are voting early in record numbers — and not just in the places you might think.

What lessons can we learn from the 41.7 million early votes cast so far?

Early voting hasn’t just increased in the presidential swing states or other states where there is a competitive race. In this intensely partisan political climate, voters who live in non-competitive states and districts are also turning out and voting early.

In deep-red Oklahoma, more than 234,000 voted early, doubling the 2008 record of 114,300 votes. In Kansas, the sum of early votes topped the previous record by 20,000 votes on Friday. In West Virginia, the early-voting period ended Saturday with more than 179,000 ballots cast, breaking the previous record by 22,000 votes.

Some deep-blue corners of the map are seeing surges in early voting, too.

In the District of Columbia, the most heavily Democratic jurisdiction in the country, early voting increased from 68,641 in 2012 to 101,077 this year. In Illinois, Chicagoans surpassed the record set in 2008 — when their favorite son, Barack Obama, was set to become the nation’s first African-American president — by 9 percent, with one more day of early voting remaining to be tabulated. In Maryland, 860,000 people have already cast ballots, doubling the sum total of early votes from 2012.

Then there are the states that aren’t generally competitive, but showed fleeting signs of tightening over the course of the race. Only a few polls suggested Hillary Clinton could win Texas, where Republicans have romped to big statewide victories continuously since the 1990s. The overall early vote for the Lone Star State is currently at 87 percent of the 2012 total, with some absentee ballots surely still in the mail. But a few heavily Latino counties have seen surges in their early-voting numbers.

Obama carried Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston and is roughly 40 percent Latino, by less than one percent in 2012. The county had 700,892 early votes four years ago; this year the total is more than 977,000. Four years ago, Hidalgo County, which borders Mexico and includes the city of McAllen, was one of Obama’s best in the state; he won 70 percent of the vote. That year, 103,270 Hidalgo County residents voted early. This year, 132,424 voted early. Neighboring Cameron County, Texas, which includes Brownsville, had 42,103 early votes in 2012; the county had 61,339 early votes this year.

Such increases are unlikely to flip Texas blue this cycle. But Mitt Romney won the state by 16 points, and it’s all but certain that Trump will win it by a narrower margin.

We should see a similar dynamic in Georgia, where the overall early vote is 23 percent higher than it was in 2012. In Fulton County, home to Atlanta and the most populous county in the state, election officials announced a record early-vote total on Sunday: 260,934 residents, or two-thirds of the total of all votes cast in the county four years ago. That’s an increase of 150,000 early votes from a year when Obama won the county by nearly 115,000 votes, 64 percent to 34 percent.

#related#What about Ohio, the swingiest of swing states? Early voting is up in some counties there but not in all of them. Obama won Franklin County, Ohio, which includes Columbus, with 60 percent of the vote in 2012. The county record of 68,000 early votes cast that year was broken Friday. In Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati and was just a six-point victory for Obama over Romney, early in-person votes hit 27,004 Sunday, topping the 24,303 cast through the same time in 2012. But early voting in Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, was down 12 percent from 2012 through Saturday. (It’s worth noting that the period for early in-person voting in Ohio is one week shorter than it was in 2012.)

Early voting is becoming normalized. Perhaps it’s convenience, perhaps it reflects campaigns’ wishing to “bank” as many votes as possible before Election Day, or perhaps it reflects voters who experienced long lines on past Election Days and decided they never wanted to wait that long again.

“Get out the vote”? Whatever the reason, in many communities it’s already out.

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