Sunday, October 23, 2016

Have You Voted Yet?

More than 2.5M votes were cast before the final debate. Does it matter?
Forget Nov. 8 — voting in the 2016 general election began weeks ago. 

Even before the candidates took the stage for their third, most substantive debate, hundreds of thousands of votes had already been submitted to election officials in several battleground states such as Florida, Georgia and Iowa. The votes, which won’t be counted until Election Day, came in the form of absentee ballots and early voting.

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This data, collected by Michael McDonald, an associate professor at the University of Florida, is one of the best sources for early-voting tallies across the country.

Collecting vote totals from 50 different state voting systems, plus the District of Columbia, presents a mammoth challenge, and in some cases, the data is not freely available to the public.

McDonald also stressed that the completeness of these figures hinges on how quickly the state office administering the election can process returned ballots. 

The steps of “collecting these data are a real challenge, especially if the state doesn’t have a centralized reporting system,” McDonald said. He estimates a third of states don't have a centralized system that makes detailed voting data publicly available.

So while the numbers above are just a snapshot of some of the returned ballots so far, they form a definite baseline of how many people have voted and where. 

Do early voters know more, or less?

Across the country, widespread early voting means millions of votes are cast before the entirety of the campaign plays out. In North Carolina, a battleground state with some of the best voting data, we can see a rough estimate of how many voters made a choice before certain revelations in the 2016 campaign.

Early voting began Thursday, so the charts below account only for absentee ballots received through the day of the debate, Oct. 19. 

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But does that mean those were uninformed voters? Not according to McDonald.

Data on the earliest of early voters shows they are older and have a strong history of voting. This indicates to McDonald that they are high-information voters and made up their mind about a candidate long before.

Other research has suggested that late breaking information can change the outcome of an election. 

But McDonald argues that the rise of early voting has encouraged campaigns to share information earlier, resulting in a more informed, less impulsive voter, he said. 

Rather than spring an October surprise days before the election, campaigns tend to drop negative opposition research — a story about a candidate’s treatment of a former Miss Universe, for instance — much earlier so that more voters hear about it.

“You can’t hold the negative information too long, because you might miss the window of the persuadables who might be voting,” McDonald said. 

How many vote early in each state

A third of all voters cast their ballots before Election Day in 2012. In some states, especially in the West, that percentage was much higher.

That's because over the last 30 years, Western states have changed their voting laws to accommodate more early voting methods. In three — Oregon, Washington and Colorado — all voters will get ballots by mail in 2016 (though Colorado will still offer in-person polling places). Many Northeastern states had little advance voting because they require a reason, such as military service or being unable to visit your polling place on Election Day. 

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What’s next

Four years ago, 2.8 million North Carolina voters cast their ballot in the weeks leading up to Election Day. That amounts to 62 percent of the state’s 2012 electorate.

The pace at which the votes are cast will skyrocket in the coming days.

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In all, 37 states and the District of Columbia offer some form of early or by-mail voting, and while the number of votes cast before the final debate was only about 2 percent of all the votes in 2012, that figure has already begun to rise. Since the debate it has risen to 9.3 percent, or 4.3 million votes.

In all likelihood, a third of voters will vote before Nov. 8. As that date nears, more and more persuadable voters will make their decision at a time when Hillary Clinton commands a healthy lead in the polls and pushes her campaign into traditionally red states.

This presents an urgent issue for Donald Trump as he tries to chart a come-from-behind victory. Changing minds before Election Day is already a tough task, but the effort won’t do much good if those voters already donned their ‘I Voted’ sticker weeks ago.

Kevin Schaul and Kim Soffen contributed to this report.

1 comment:

forsythia said...

Gonna vote next Thursday.