Early Voting: Trick or Treat Edition

Early voting is over but as of 11:30 on Thursday night, the Maryland State Board of Elections has not posted the final numbers on early voting participation. Nevertheless, here are some thoughts as the opening act of this year’s elections come to a close.

1. The Impact of Early Voting is Overrated. Most studies of early voting indicate little effect on total turnout. Unsurprisingly, many early voters are people who would have otherwise participated on Election Day or voted absentee. The latter explains the decline in absentee ballots. EV provides opportunities for both parties but mostly convenience for voters.

2. Many lament that Election Day is not a holiday or we don’t vote on the weekend. Except that early voting dived by roughly 50% on a gorgeous weekend over early voting held on weekdays. Confirmation for political science studies that show zero relationship between free time and propensity to vote.

3. The Case for Republicans: Early voting was supposed to benefit Democrats and it was a bust. Despite an expansion in the days for early voting and number of early voting centers, Republicans have prevented Democrats from any net gains over 2010. And this occurred even though early voting increased and there are far more Democrats than Republicans in Maryland. Republicans increased their rate of turnout to match that of Democrats. Democratic turnout in the big three was terrible.

4. The Case for Democrats: Once the final numbers are released, the final totals will reveal a gain in raw votes for Democrats. Precisely because there are more Democrats, the addition of another 40,000 or so voters will result in the Democrats going into Election Day with a net gain from early voting. As @mdtruth has reported, 2010 turnout predicts 2014 turnout very well, so the lack of a net change is not a big surprise.

5. My Assessment: To the extent that it does matter, the evidence that either party has gained substantially over 2010 is thin. As of the end of Day 7, Republicans had a net gain of less than 2000 ballots over 2010. The number is around 5000 if unaffiliated voters are also included. But the numbers are still down for everyone if you factor in the decline in absentee voting, which is of course not yet complete.

6. But If I Must Pick a Winner: Republicans have more reason to feel pleased. Democrats had hoped that early voting would result in a substantial gain in votes banked in advance of Election Day. That hasn’t happened. And it’s hard to blame it on being a hard year for Democrats, as 2010 was worse. Nonetheless, @mdtruth has it right in that 2014 turnout correlates well with 2010 turnout. Any real impact on the final outcome is unclear and likely small.

I’m traveling this weekend but will see if I can report the final numbers at some point. And “in case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good morning, and good night!”