Home 2019 Elections Long-Time Turnout Predictor Frank O’Leary Predicts “Record-Breaking Primary, Probably in Excess of...

Long-Time Turnout Predictor Frank O’Leary Predicts “Record-Breaking Primary, Probably in Excess of 20,000 Votes” in Arlington

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The following is by former Arlington County Treasurer Frank X. O’Leary, who has been doing these predictions for years now. Note that about a month ago, an Arlington political insider asked me what I thought primary turnout would be on June 11, and I wrote, “Turnout in the 2015 Arlington Dem primary for County Board was around 20k. Turnout in the August 2011 Dem primary for Commonwealth’s Attorney was 13k.  So…maybe somewhere in the 13k-20k range?” Now, with just 26+ days to go, Frank O’Leary predicts, “this will be a record-breaking primary, probably in excess of 20,000 votes.” Interesting…`

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Primary 2019: And They’re Off!

In the first two weeks of Absentee Voting, ending May 10, a startling 237 voters have cast their ballots.  This is a record for a purely local primary (i.e.; no federal or state offices) and eclipses the prior record for the first two weeks of voting set in 2016 (when 122 voted) by a margin of nearly two-to-one.  Should this pace continue, more than 3,200 absentee votes may be cast by June 11, or approximately double the final record of 1,583 set in 2011.  All of this may reflect Ms. Stamos’ vigorous walking campaign and her handing out of applications for the sample ballot (a practice she pioneered in 2011).  Her opponent, Ms. Tafti, may be doing likewise.

On a cautionary note, all this conjecture is a bit speculative at this point, but certainly indicative of a very large turnout looming for a purely local primary.  Predicting the total turnout for the current primary is complicated by this super-sized expected absentee vote.  The following summary of purely local primaries underlines the problem.

Arlington Democratic Primaries for Local Offices, 1995-2018
Year Office(s) Active Voters Turnout %Turnout Absentee %Absentee
1995 County Board 94,163 6,898 7.3% 132 1.9%
1997 CB, HD48 101,544 8,704 8.6% 223 2.6%
2003 COR, CB, 49TH 117,236 7,619 6.5% 196 2.6%
2007 Treasurer 126,739 5,721 4.5% 234 4.1%
2011 CA, SD30/31, HD49 133,477 13,699 10.3% 1,583 11.6%
2015 County Board 136,758 10,824 7.9% 626 5.8%
2016 County Board 132,923 15,240 11.5% 1,224 8.0%
2018 County Board 150,457 11,664 7.8% 874 7.5%

Prior to about 2007, the rule regarding Absentee Voting was very strict.  You had to practically sign in blood that you would be far removed from the County or otherwise constrained in physically voting on the proscribed day.  (This was true for both primaries and general elections.) As a result, absentee voting in purely local primaries tended to average about 2.3%. Since 2007, it has mushroomed to an average of about 7.4%.

This change in the rules, and the corresponding action on the part of voters, wreaked havoc with my ability to use the absentee vote as a predictor.  My analytical problems reached their peak in 2011, when my model (labeled by Jim Pebley as the “Prediculator”) indicated a total turnout of nearly 17,000, based on a record setting absentee turnout of 1,583; while in reality less than 14,000 voted. Over the ensuing years, I comforted myself with the conviction that this one-time anomaly would not reoccur.  Obviously, I was wrong.  It’s back!

Accordingly, I have to open the hood and do some adjustments to the “Prediculator.”  Until those fixes are completed, I will venture to say only that this will be a record-breaking primary, probably in excess of 20,000 votes. My conviction, in that regard, is based not only on the absentee vote to date, but the expenditures of the candidates. More funds will be expended, this year, than in any purely local primary and expenditures are the “sinews of war” and turnout.

Wishing you many happy returns!

                                                                                             FXO