The Corner


Those Inevitable, Not-So-Illuminating Reports from Polling Places

I certainly don’t mind readers sending in anecdotes about high or low turnout at their polling places, and the cable-news networks and local news will do plenty of live shots from outside local schools and city halls and other places people are voting. But the anecdotes rarely tell you much about how high turnout is going to be.

In fact, every Election Day, the turnout anecdotes and reports develop roughly the same way, something like this:

8 a.m.: “Bob, I’m reporting live from outside the local middle school, and right now the lines are outside the door! Looks like we’re going to have high turnout, back to you in the studio!”

10 a.m.: “Bob, shortly after nine, the steady stream of voters slowed to a trickle, and now it’s almost completely stopped, with no wait at all right now. Looks like we’re going to have low turnout this year, back to you in the studio!”

p.m.: “Bob, it’s amazing, right around noon, the parking lot filled up again! There’s another long line, and so now it looks like turnout will be high this year, back to you in the studio!”

p.m.: “Bob, it’s been another dramatic shift. As midday turned into afternoon, the line just disappeared. Now the parking lot is mostly empty, a few senior citizens here and there — turnout might be a lot lower than we thought it would be just a few hours ago. It’s a slow election day, back to you in the studio!”

p.m.: “Bob, it’s amazing, the polls close in just an hour or two, but in the late afternoon, the voters started coming again in droves! The parking lot is full, and long lines are all the way out the door, people say they’ve never seen the line this long, looks like we could have record turnout this year! Back to you in the studio!”

Meanwhile, back in the studio, Anchorman Bob has figured out that most people vote before or after work or during their lunch break.

Also keep in mind that the early vote becomes a larger chunk of the overall vote each year, which should mean fewer people showing up at polling places on Election Day. If the historical pattern continues, the early vote should be about 42 or 43 percent of the overall vote in 2018. So shorter lines at polling places might not reflect fewer votes being cast this year.

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