Late Early Vote Shifts House Race Perceptions
The chronology of the election returns had it backwards.
Early election results showed incumbent state representatives Wes Whitead, Roger Wendt and Elesha Gayman losing their seats as the returns rolled in. A buzz of panic rippled through an Iowa City victory party: "Did we lose the House? Did we lose the House?"
But the three incumbents had won re-election (assuming Whitead hold his six vote lead) before the polls even opened. When the absentee results were added in, their early vote totals overcame the Election Day leads of Republican challengers. It was like watching the second half of a ball game before seeing the score of the first half, making an early lead look like a come-from-behind win.
"We won on election night, and we lost when they opened the mailbox," House Republican Leader Christopher Rants told the Des Moines Register. "Election Day is no longer 24 hours, it's 24 days." 40 days, to be exact, as state law allowed any Iowa to vote early beginning Sept. 25.
Democrats carried a 92,000 voter lead into Election Day out of the record 533,000 absentee and early ballots. In places where absentees were reported first, rather than last, Democrats jumped out to a big lead fast and saw the margin narrow.
The early vote margin was less than Barack Obama's 160,000 vote margin in Iowa. But fast reporting of early ballots in big Democratic counties, including Johnson County's 23,000 vote absentee lead for Obama, may have contributed to the network's fast call of the state, almost as soon as polls closed at 9 p.m.