Sunday, October 03, 2010

Early Ballots are Dems Ace In The Hole

Early Ballots are Dems Ace In The Hole

Chet Culver relinquished one of the traditional Election Day images this week to set an example for his fellow Democrats. He stopped by the Polk County Auditor's Office to vote early.

Vote Early has been a Democratic mantra for several cycles. Democrats have shifted gears since the last gubernatorial election, steering more toward in-person early voting while still promoting mailed absentees. That lag in early early requests, which Some Called an "enthusiasm gap," merely reflects that strategy and a later date for the party's big absentee mailing.

Sure, maybe there is some disappointment among core Democrats who expected to have single payer health care and all the troops home by now, but their qualified support counts just as much as tea party rage. No matter how mad you are, you only get to vote once.

Back in the first Terry Branstad Era, Republicans had a good vote by mail program, but in the decade since Florida they've steered strongly toward pushing Election Day (or as we call it in Johnson County 'late voting'). This year, they're going Back To The Future in more ways than one. Branstad had a good absentee program in the primary and Republicans have resumed mailing requests. But the residual effects of a decade of selling their base on the idea that Absentee Voting = Fraud, with accompanying Chicago jokes, still linger. Note that after Culver cast his ballot, the Branstad campaign replied that Terry would be voting on Election Day.

(Aside: Has anyone else noticed in the Secretary of State race that Democratic incumbent Mike Mauro talks about ways to help people vote, while Republican opponent Matt Schultz talks about ways to make it harder to vote? Says everything you need to know about their attitudes.)

There's evidence from elsewhere that in-person early voting helps Democrats. Survey USA reports that in a close congressional race in Ohio, likely voters favor the Republican 53 percent to 41. But among voters who have already marked their ballots, the Democrat has a 53-45 lead.

The other early voting wild card is an Iowa City referendum on bar admission age. Back story for the out of towners: After a couple changes in membership and a couple changes of mind, the city council increased the bar admission age from 19 to 21 (some caveats apply), with the change kicking in over the summer.

Iowa City's home rule charter has an initiative process, and students (with an assist from some bar owners) have petitioned to repeal the ordinance, placing the question on the November 2 ballot.

The same issue was on the ballot in 2007, with the roles reversed; self-appointed public health advocates petitioned for an increase to 21. Students, who normally ignore local Iowa City elections, turned out for the city election at governor-plus levels (still below presidential year rates) and the initiative lost, 58 percent to 42.

So far, students seem to be exceeding even that 2007 pace. An early voting site at Burge Hall pulled in a record-crushing 1,319 voters, topping the old high mark of 945 set at Burge in that 2007 election.

But are those students just voting on the one issue and leaving the rest of the ballot blank? That happened to some extent in 2007. But that year it was just city council races on the ballot, and it's harder to ignore governor and senator. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the young voters are spending enough time in the booth to work their way through the ballot and vote on, if not everything, at least most of it.

So who does that help? Young voters register with no party affiliation more than any other age group. But historically, student precincts in Johnson County have also had relatively high levels of straight ticket voting. And you have to figure that anything that boosts young voter turnout in the most Democratic county in the state (70% Obama in 2008, 68% Culver in 2006) can't hurt.

Indeed, some local GOP conspiracy theorists think the city council pushed the bar issue to gin up - hey, I made a funny! - student turnout, as all seven council members are registered Democrats. But some are DINOs, and the only council member who's currently active in party business, Regenia Bailey, was also the lone vote against the 21 ordinance.

In any case, a few thousand votes that wouldn't normally be case in an off-year election will be coming out of the People's Republic. That's not enough to swing any landslides, but it could make a difference in some close races.

No comments: