Early voter turnout suggests strong numbers swarming the polls
Voter turnout is known to change every election, and this election cycle seems to show a trend towards more early voting through early or absentee ballots. As of the weekend, more than 30 million votes had been cast across 38 states.
Compared to the same point in the 2012 election, the number of early voters is higher in many states, according to a report by Catalist, a data company that receives early voting information.
Texas stands out with a dramatic spike in early voting, as the number of early voters increased by 42.6 percent in 15 of the state’s largest counties. Early voting did decrease in Ohio, Michigan and Iowa compared to the last cycle.
Early voting data also shows that Latino voting is at significant highs in every state, which supports the prediction that more Latinos would participate in this election. Available data also shows fewer younger people are voting, supporting another prediction based on the millennial generation’s support for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. The amount of voters between the ages of 18 and 29 years increased in only one state: Colorado. Black early voters have decreased in more states since the 2012 cycle.
According to the limited Catalist data from the past week, Wisconsin saw very slight changes in early voting turnout. Over the weekend, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported a record was set for high numbers of early voters. More than 685,000 votes had been received, an increase of more than 20,000 since the 2012 presidential election, and 38,000 more than in 2008. Early voting has been driven in particular by the historically Democratic Dane County as well as Fox Valley, which had a competitive congressional race. Overall early voter turnout increased in the state, staying near 200-300 ballots cast. Among younger voters, the state saw a small decrease in early voting, down to under four percent from close to five percent. Latino voters in the state increased very slightly, staying under two percent. The state has allowed early voting since at least 2000.
Experts say predicting changes in early voting is complex, and dependents on the competition of the state, if campaigns have promoted early voting, and if early voting has been made more or less available. The trend, though, is clear that more states are offering early voting, often spurred on by Western states taking the initiative, while northeastern states are less open to change.
The percentage of early voters has increased over the past two decades, reaching 31 percent in 2014, up from ten percent in 1996. California lifted a ban in 1980 that required an explanation for early voting, and other Western states followed. In 2001, Oregon’s early voting laws were challenged, leading to a precedent, after the case of Voting Integrity Project v. Kiesling, legalizing early voting as long as votes were not counted before Election Day. Early voters tended to be older, have a long record of participating in elections and are heavily involved in politics.
Early voting has been further restricted, however, in some states such as Arizona and Ohio, which have Republican-led legislatures. Since 2012, more early voters are Democrats, likely because recent Democratic campaigns, including President Barack Obama’s and Hillary Clinton’s, have pushed for early voting. Democratic early voting has increased the most in Oregon and California, the highest difference seen in Maryland with a 60 percent increase since the last cycle. Republican early voting has increased in such states as Florida and Arizona, peaking in Nebraska, where turnout has increased by over 40 percent.
In terms of voting overall, the Pew Research Center released a study in August ranking the U.S. 31st out of 35 countries for voter turnout based on the voting age populace. The study focused on mostly democratic nations that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. In the 2012 presidential election, just over half — 53 percent — of eligible voters cast ballots, the study showed. That meant 129 million people out of a possible 241 million people participated. In 2014, only 36 percent of registered voters cast ballots during that last presidential bid, according to the United States Election Project. That year was the lowest turnout in the general election since 1942, when most eligible voters were fighting in World War II.
Differences in race and class, among other identities, among voters have become more apparent in recent years. According to census data, 46 percent of white voters submitted a ballot in 2014, compared to 40 percent of black voters and 27 percent of Asians and Latinos. Latinos tend to vote more Democratic. In 2012, 71 percent of Latino voters supported Obama, compared to 27 percent supporting Mitt Romney, according to exit polls by the Pew Hispanic Center. Income directly corresponds to voter turnout, as higher income brackets see higher rates of voting participation, with fewer votes from voters in lower income brackets. Over half of voters with an income of $150,000 and over voted in 2014, while under 25 percent of voters making under $10,000 voted that year.
In recent years, people are more likely to vote in presidential elections than non-presidential or primaries. According to FairVote, about 60% of eligible voters tend to participate in presidential elections in recent years, while about 40% vote in midterm elections. Overall, less people vote for local, primary and odd year elections.
According to the Center for Election Innovation and Research, there is no definitive explanation for low voter turnout, though many possible reasons have been suggested. These include restrictive voting laws that discourage voters, as well as gerrymandered districts cut across party lines that reduce competition, convincing many voters that their vote is pointless.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Americans registered in states with less competitive races between Democrats and Republicans are less likely to vote. Many southern states are dominated by the Republican party, and also have more restrictive voting laws, leading to reduced turnout in that region.