A reader in Larimer County, Colorado — what he describes as “the purplest county in the purplest state in America” — took a long, detailed look at the early vote tallies against the numbers from 2004.
Short version: With a week to go in early voting, Democrats lead the cast ballots so far, 39.5 percent to 34.4 percent Republican and 24.3 percent unaffiliated. But party registration indicates there are a lot of Republicans out there left, to vote early, absentee, or on Election Day. Breaking it down by age, he finds that the traditional pattern is holding — older voters are voting absentee in the largest percentage and the youngest voters, under 30, have been turning them in in the smallest proportion. About 4300 young voters who requested mail ballots and have turned them in so far; more than 12,000 young voters requested mail ballots and haven’t returned them yet. A voter who requested one, doesn’t fill it out, and shows up on Election Day is given a provisional ballot.
Long version, below the fold:
Two things to note, in advance:
First, this is a college town, and we had a massive influx of new registrants, mostly of young, unaffiliated voters (that’s what we call independents in Colorado).
Second, on the voter registration form, there was a check-box for a “permanent mail ballot” status (in other words, you get a ballot mailed to you for every election automatically). New registrants were being strongly encouraged to check this box by the Obama people.
Looking at the numbers, as of Tuesday (new numbers available tomorrow morning):
There are about 207,000 registered voters in Larimer County:
There have been 66,564 ballots cast so far.
25,343 Republicans (34.4%)
17,931 Unaffiliateds (24.3%)
22964 Democrats (39.5%)
Compare that to the final early and absentee balloting from 2004:
72,254 Republicans, 39,804 early/absentee, (55.1% E/A turnout; (and 60,139, or 83.2%, total turnout))
61,360 Unaffiliateds, 25,191 early/absentee, (41.1% E/A turnout; (and 45,706, or 74.5%, total turnout))
47,798 Democrats, 26,867 early/absentee, (56.2% E/A turnout; (and 39,656, or 83%, total turnout))
So the current 2008 turnout percentage as a percentage of the 2004 final E/A turnout percentage is:
Republicans are running at 62.5% of 2004.
Unaffiliateds are running at 59.2% of 2004.
Democrats are running at 70.2% of 2004.
Obviously, the Democrats are getting their ballots in early. That’s not good. However, the big unknown variable here is timing. We still have a week to go, and the 2008 numbers are matched up against the 2004 FINAL numbers. And the difference between 2004 and 2008 is that there are whopping 19 ballot initiatives and referenda this year. No one has any idea which is which (we’ve actually had 4 pulled since the ballots were printed, so there’s even more confusion). Much of my tepid optimism rests on the assumption that Republican absentee ballots will continue to come in steadily. I believe that the Democrats enthusiastically voted Obama and sent them in. (This might actually bode well for down-ballot Republicans).
(The larger point, when looking at these early/absentee numbers, is that we need to factor in change of habit and not just change of voters. In other words, higher early/absentee turnout among Democrats is MOST likely to be just a shift in habits/tactics. More voting early means fewer voting on election day. Republicans have done this for the last three cycles. Democrats have adopted our tactics.)
Either way, if you look at the numbers above, it looks like we’re getting killed. The final turnout percentages in 2004 were 41% R, 31% U, 27% D. The early/absentee turnout to date numbers are 34.4% R, 24.3% U, 39.5% D. That’s not good news.
So here’s a bizarre glimmer of hope. Remember all of those “permanent mail ballots”? They’re still out there. Democrats have been turning them in. Republicans are turning them in slowly (they’ll come in – a “likely voter” is a “likely voter”).
Unaffiliateds have been holding on to them. Many – and this is where I think a lot of the new registrants come in – won’t get their ballots in on time. We’re in a college town, and so I ran the turnout numbers by age.
Of all of the early/absentee turnout so far,
7,880 are under the age of 30.
17,038 are 30-49
41,634 are 50+
As a percentage of demographic,
There are 54,370 registered under-30 voters; 7,880 is 14.5% turnout for that age group.
There are 69,547 registered 30-49 voters; 17,038 is 24.5% turnout.
There are 83,006 registered over-50 voters; 41,634 is 50.2% turnout.
That means that turnout is low among the youth vote. Let’s compare it to 2004.
50,586 under-30 registered voters in 2004; 34,888 of whom (69%) voted; 16,650 of whom voted early or absentee (32.9%).
66,561 30-49 registered voters in 2004; 53,483 of whom (80.4%) voted; 29,937 of whom voted early or absentee (45%).
65,177 over-50 registered voters in 2004; 57,868 of whom (88.8%) voted; 45,693 of whom voted early or absentee (70.1%).
That means that, as a percentage of their early and absentee turnout, the under-30 demo is running at 44% of 2004 (i.e. the 14.5% early/absentee turnout of 2008 is only 44% of the 32.9% turnout of 2004), the 30-49 demo is running at 54.5% of 2004 and the over-50 demo is running at 71.5% of 2004.
So now we know that the kids aren’t turning in their ballots.
BUT, the Obama campaign was making a huge mail ballot push, especially for new registrants. The vast majority of August-September registrations had three characteristics: they were young voters, unaffiliated, and requested a mail ballot (almost ALL requested a mail ballot).
How many younger voters received mail ballots? 16,829. There are 12,470 still out there. (Remember, the 7,880 early/absentee turnout number includes early voting, not just returned absentee ballots. Only 4,359 under-30 voters have actually returned their ballots).
How many of those ballots still exist? (Most were mailed on October 3rd).
It gets better.
There are three scenarios for outstanding mail ballots.
- They’re in the trash.
- They’re sitting on the kitchen counter in a neat pile as the voter does more research and will be mailed this week.
- They’re sitting on the kitchen counter in a neat pile as the voter does more research and will NOT be mailed this week.
Let’s set aside scenario #2.
How about scenario #1? Remember again, many of these people are new registrants. Their entire “action” for requesting a mail ballot was to check off one more box on their voter registration form. How many didn’t realize that what they received in early October was an actual ballot? How many simply lost them? So under scenario #1, these people will – possibly – head out to vote on Tuesday. (Many will sheepishly say to themselves: “I screwed it up. But Obama’s got it in the bag anyway” and stay home). But if they do head out to vote on election day, they’ll get to the check-in table only to be told that because they’ve already requested an absentee ballot, they can either turn in that absentee ballot by hand (which means they’d have to go home and look for it) or cast a provisional ballot. How many new, young voters will simply walk away at this point?
Scenario #3 means that they’ll fill out their ballot and hand-deliver it to a vote center on election day. However, while there are 33 polling places in the county, you’re only allowed to drop off absentee ballots at seven of them. If you walk in with a mail ballot, they’re going to give you directions to a different location to drop it off. How many new, young voters will skip this next step?
The Obama campaign made a huge push to register new voters AND get them to request mail ballots. It may just be that they’ve made a mistake. It may just be that it’s a heck of a lot easier to register a young person and then show up outside their dorm with a van on election day (the old fashioned way) than it is to rely on them to receive, fill out and mail their ballots at the appropriate time.