There is such a thing as reading too much into the early vote figures.
As of today, just over 5 million people have voted early across the country, either in-person or by returning absentee ballots.
Some localities are reporting higher early voting this cycle — “sharply increasing” in Cuyahoga County, Ohio; “tripling” in Georgia and Clark County, Nevada. But early voting has increased in every election cycle since 2004, so we would expect early voting to be up in most places. And bigger numbers for early voting doesn’t always translate to higher turnout overall. Around 40 percent of ballots in 2014 were early in-person voting, absentee ballots, or vote by mail, compared to 35 percent two years earlier and about 32 percent in 2010. (Remember, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington now vote entirely by mail.) But overall voter turnout in 2014 was the lowest since the Second World War. Big early voting numbers could mean wider general interest in the midterm elections, or it could mean that a larger chunk of the usual pool of voters decided to vote early this year.
If the historical trends continue, we can expect about 45 percent of all voters to cast ballots early, absentee, or by mail in 2018.
Back in 2014, some liberals looked at higher numbers of registered Democratic voters participating in early voting and insisted the polls showing their preferred candidates trailing had to be wrong. They were deeply disappointed on Election Night.
There’s a perception that high early vote turnout is good for Democrats and bad for Republicans, but that drastically oversimplifies things.
The early vote in Nevada is a little ominous; Jon Ralston has been covering the state’s elections for a long time and his analysis makes sense. But there’s a bunch of states where more GOP-affiliated voters have voted early than Democratic-affiliated voters, according to a new analysis of the data from NBC News: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Montana, Tennessee, and Texas. (Basically, where almost all the dramatic Senate races are!)
Perspective is in order. In Indiana, Montana, and Nevada, the total early vote hasn’t hit 100,000 votes yet. Based upon the last midterms, Montana should have about 370,000 total votes, Nevada should have at least a half-million votes, and Indiana should have at least a million. Still, every vote you turn out early is one less you have to worry about on Election Day — and you’d rather have more of your voters casting ballots early than the other side’s voters.
Beto O’Rourke fans will look at the news that Bexar County in Texas saw 16,827 votes cast by 2 p.m. today; four years ago, there were 13,436 for the whole first day. Bexar County includes San Antonio, and is usually one of the more Democratic-leaning regions of the state; Hillary Clinton won 319,550 votes here and Donald Trump won 240,333.
But Bexar is usually Democratic-leaning; in the 2014 Senate race, Republican Jon Cornyn won 160,577 and Democrat David Alameel won 124,030. O’Rourke’s going to need to run up a big margin in those little blue dots on the Texas map to make up for all of the votes in those red stretches.
Some folks aren’t such big fans of the idea of “Election Month” instead of Election Day; you never know when, to pick a completely hypothetical example, the FBI director might suddenly announce the reopening of a criminal investigation of a presidential candidate.