As we’ve previously discussed, in a Virginia “off-odd” election year such as this one, where there’s no statewide or federal race on the ballot, voter turnout usually is very low. Of course, part of this dropoff is because in off/odd election years, many districts historically have been uncontested and /or non-competitive, which in and of itself will tend to result in low voter turnout. So, comparing off/odd turnout to statewide and/or federal elections turnout is definitely not an apples-to-apples comparison. Still, it’s interesting, and also important, particularly looking at Democrats who normally vote in statewide and/or federal elections but who normally do *not* vote when “only” (in quotes because these are actually highly important elections!) the General Assembly and local offices are on the ballot.
With that wordy preamble, where are we right now in terms of early absentee voting? How does this compare to previous cycles? And what might this imply for turnout this election cycle, as well as results? Here are a few stats:
- According to the State Board of Elections website, as of now there have been 67,809 absentee ballot applications, including 11,166 students. Of those applications, 25,564 have been returned so far.
- In comparison, as of October 12, 2018 (last year’s federal mid-term elections), there had been 134,806 total absentee applications, with 48,281 returned. So that’s about twice as many as we’ve got now. Note that total turnout in last year’s Virginia elections ended up at 59.5%, with 287,763 absentee ballots cast. Also note that Democrats did very well, with Tim Kaine crushing Corey Stewart for U.S. Senate and also with Democrats picking up VA02 (Elaine Luria), VA07 (Abigail Spanberger) and VA10 (Jennifer Wexton). So…yeah, when Democrats vote, we win!
- In 2017, a gubernatorial election and the first statewide election since Trump took office, Virginia saw 182,256 total absentee ballots cast, with final turnout of 47.6%. And Democrats did great, picking up 15 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates and easily winning the governor, LG and AG races. Yet again, the more people vote, the better for Democrats here in Virginia.
- Also in 2017, note that as of October 30 – about two weeks from now – 103,452 people had voted absentee. Notice how absentee voting really ramps up as we get closer to the election. Again, this election cycle we’ve seen 25,564 absentee ballots returned so far, which seems kind of low, but we’ve also had 67,809 absentee ballot applications, and perhaps things will ramp up again as we get closer to election day. Stay tuned…
- In 2015, the last “off/odd” election year in Virginia, we had 62,605 total absentee ballots completed/returned. And in 2011, there were 59,519 total absentee ballots returned. Right now, we’re at 68,809 absentee ballot applications, so that seems like a good sign for turnout being higher this election than it was in 2015 (29.1%) – or in 2011 (28.6%), for that matter. Also note that in 2015, Democrats didn’t do particularly well, picking up basically nothing in the House of Delegates or State Senate and losing badly for Prince William Board of County Supervisors. So clearly, turnout under 30% doesn’t seem to work out great for Democrats.
- In 2014, a federal mid-term election year, there were 123,221 absentee ballots cast, with final turnout of 41.6%. Note that 2014 was a terrible year for Democrats, including here in Virginia, where Sen. Mark Warner barely won reelection over Ed Gillespie, and where Democrats got their clocks cleaned in House districts like VA10, VA05, VA02, etc. Again, low turnout sucks for Democrats.
- In 2013, another gubernatorial election year, Virginia saw 121,359 absentee ballots cast, with final voter turnout of 43.0%. Not horrible, but not great either, and the results were also…kinda meh, with Democrats getting basically nowhere in the House of Delegates, while only NARROWLY winning the governor’s election (Terry McAuliffe vs. far-right Republican Ken Cuccinelli) and the AG’s election (that one went to a recount between Mark Herring and Mark “Criminalize Miscarriages” Obenshain).
Bottom line: While it’s unrealistic to expect 2017 turnout levels, if we get halfway between 2015 (29.1%) and 2017 (47.6%) turnout – maybe the high 30%’s, closing in on 40%?- Democrats should be in good shape. Could that happen? One indication might be absentee ballots, and right now, requests (67,809) are higher than the total returned (62,605) in 2015, but far lower than the total returned (182,256) in 2017 and also far lower than the absentee ballots returned (103,452) as of October 30, 2017. We’re also at about half the pace of 2018, which saw final turnout of 59.5% (implying around 30% final turnout this election?). So…we’ll see, but honestly I’d prefer to see stronger absentee voting at this point. On that note, I’d urge everyone to get out and vote – absentee or in person, whatever works for you!