“No Such Thing as 'Election Day'” trumpets the Political Wire headline, as 2008 was the national breakout year for early voting. My favorite theory is that people were so sick of Bush that they literally couldn't wait to vote.
But when I look at a George Washington University study, my theory crumbles. The link between The percentage of vote cast early and the percentage for Obama isn't an exact, one-to-one thing. Some of the strongest Obama states had low early voting,
Of course, here in Johnson County we've known about early voting for years, and the early voting rate has grown the last five elections in a row, even in the dull 1996 Clinton-Dole race.
The 1988 Johnson County rate was 6 percent. Notaries and reasons were required way back then, so early voting was restricted to shut-ins and people who were actually absent. State law changed in 1990, and Iowa became one of the first states to allow unrestricted early voting (oddly, Texas was an early voting pioneer.) The pace picked up, aided by aggressive Democratic Party efforts, until 2008, when 36 percent of Iowa voters voted before Election Day. In Johnson County, for the first time in a presidential year, more people voted before Election Day than on Election Day. (We did it once before in a 2003 school bond.)
Ten whole states can make that claim for 2008. Oregon tops the list; by statewide referendum, all elections are mail-only for a by-definition 100 percent early voting rate. Most of Washington is also all by mail. Western states dominate the top tier of early voting states, and Obama ran well on the Left Coast.
But a graph sorted by early vote percentage shows no direct relationship between Obama percentage and turnout percentage. As early voting percentage declines, overall turnout averages out fairly flat and Obama percentage is all over.
There's actually a slightly inverse relationship between early voting percentage and Obama percentage, and that inverse relationship is almost all geographic. The Northeast, where Obama ran strong and led from the beginning, lags behind the rest of the country in early voting law. New York and Pennsylvania are at the bottom of the list with rates of less than 4 percent, and all the bottom states are in the Northeast except Alabama and Kentucky. There must be some link to the political culture in those states; Eastern states also tend to have larger state legislatures than the West but that's just coincidence. Anybody got a better explanation? Anybody want to get the first Democratic New York state senate in decades on the task?
Interestingly, given the history of vote suppression, there's a cluster of early voting states in the South: North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Georgia and Texas. Obama and McCain split these states, and Georgia in particular got a great deal of attention for huge early vote totals and long lines.
Kos notes that of the top 12 early voting states, "five were formerly Red states flipped by Obama. Obama flipped a total of nine. Only Virginia was flipped without substantial early voting performance. Missouri, which Obama lost by a little under 4,000 votes, has no early voting. It's no stretch to assume that had early voting existed in the Show Me State, it would've kept its "bellwether" status by flipping Blue."
It's hard to see if there's a relationship between early voting and Election Day voter registration. North Dakota, Iowa and Maine are in the upper middle of the pack, Minnesota and New Hampshire are very low, and Wisconsin didn't report statistics.
Number geeks, see if you can find any other patterns in the table below.
|State||% Early Votes||% Obama||% Turnout (of eligible voters)|
|District of Columbia||10.50%||92.46%||60.90%|