Home 2019 Elections Long-Time Voter Turnout Guru Frank O’Leary Looks at Absentee Ballot Numbers, Sees...

Long-Time Voter Turnout Guru Frank O’Leary Looks at Absentee Ballot Numbers, Sees a Potential “Super Record Year” in Arlington

Is this "discontinuity" from past election cycles unique to Arlington, does it bode well for Democrats across Virginia, or what?

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The following is from former, long-time Arlington County Treasurer Frank X. O’Leary, who in his spare time analyzes early/absentee voting in order to predict election day turnout. What I find particularly interesting about O’Leary’s latest analysis is that absentee voting has spiked in Arlington, where – as O’Leary puts it – “there are no competitive local races and the Arlington vote has zero impact in those districts elsewhere in Virginia that matter.” If this is happening in Arlington, where there’s not much of anything to get voters excited this year, then how about the rest of Virginia? Also, how do O’Leary’s numbers mesh – or clash – with the statewide early/absentee voting numbers, which seem ok but certainly not off the charts? Is there something weird going on in Arlington with absentee ballots this year? What is this “discontinuity” of which O’Leary speaks, exactly? I’m not sure, but we definitely need to keep an eye on this, IMHO.

A Super Record Year?

The Absentee Vote to date in Arlington has been beyond belief – and I mean that literally.  With 22 voting days remaining, 936 voters have cast their ballots.  This is far beyond the prior record for absentee voting in any Constitutional Year or that of the special election in April 2014.

Comparison of Absentee Voting in Low Turnout years 

                               2019G          2015G          2014S           2011G

22 Days to Go          936                257              235               267

Final Absentee            ?              2,329           1,939           2,248 

Should this pace continue, the Absentee Vote for 2019 could well exceed 8,000 with an implied Total Turnout in excess of 70,000.  None of this seems likely.

Historically, we find the following for recent Constitutional Years.

Constitutional Year Turnout in General Elections

Year

Active Voters

Turnout

%Turnout

Absentee

%Absentee

1995

95,190

39,441

41.4%

1,235

3.1%

1999

100,334

37,078

37.0%

1,208

3.3%

2003

102,663

34,141

33.3%

1,064

3.1%

2007

121,746

31,524

25.9%

1,369

4.3%

2011

135,594

35,356

26.1%

2,248

6.4%

2015

134,772

36,968

27.4%

2,329

6.3%

Note that as the voter rolls have grown, interest among the electorate in voting in the Constitutional Year has diminished while the tendency to vote absentee has greatly increased, particularly with the relaxation of the rules for voting absentee in 2008. This year’s dramatic increase in Absentee Voting, however, is a clear “discontinuity.”  Something is going on behind the scenes that has never occurred before and, to such a degree, that my pretty little formulas seemingly will not apply to this year’s vote. 

This year, the Democratic Party state-wide in seeking to maximize turnout in the hopes of taking control of both the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates – another great Blue Wave such as occurred in 2017 and 2018.  This strategy does not actually apply in Arlington as there are no competitive local races and the Arlington vote has zero impact in those districts elsewhere in Virginia that matter.  Even a record low or high turnout in Arlington, would have no bearing on the greater question of legislative control. 

Despite this consideration, it would appear that there is deliberate effort to maximize local turnout and that effort is being reflected in an astronomic increase in the Absentee Vote. The relationship between Absentee Voting and Total Turnout, however, is correlative, and not causal, so there is no certainty that Total Turnout will be enhanced proportionally.  In the absence of this effort, a Total Turnout of around 43,000 would seem likely, given the approximately 151,000 Active Voters on the rolls, but that is seemingly not the case.  Given the limited but obvious evidence of an effective turnout campaign, Absentee Turnout may exceed 8,000.  Should it do so, I believe that a Total Turnout exceeding 60,000 (as some have posited) is conceivable but doubtful. 

I plan to revisit this subject in a few weeks as the Absentee Vote further develops.  Meanwhile, I wish you all a Many Happy Returns.

                                                                                            FXO