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With Less Than a Week Until Virginia Votes, Where Are We With Absentee Ballots?


With less than a week until election day (11/5), where are we with early/absentee ballots? Let’s check it out.

First, according to TargetSmart’s early/absentee vote Monday report (see graphics, below), there had been 81,216 absentee ballots returned, more than double the 35,471 returned at this point in 2015, which is the last comparable, off/odd election year in Virginia. So that’s good news! Now, we’re not quite at 2017 levels (114,907 absentees returned at the same point), but that was a “statewide,” gubernatorial election year, so even being somewhat close to that number is very strong.

But wait, you ask, who is casting those absentee ballots? According to TargetSmart, so far it’s been:

  • Overwhelmingly older voters (51.2% are ages 65+, plus 26.1% who are ages 50-64), although a bit younger than in 2015 (e.g., 14.9% under age 40 this time around, compared to 11.0% in 2015);
  • About even between “modeled” Democrats (35,911) and Republicans (36,276), with 9,029 “modeled” “Other”;
  • About 86.1% Caucasian and 8.6% African-American, which compares to 88.9% Caucasian and 7.8% African-American in 2015;
  • 54.4% female and 45.6% male, which is slightly more female than in 2015;
  • A lower share of “Super Voters” (54.3% now vs. 59.5% in 2015) and a higher share of “Infrequent Voters” (11.6% now vs. 9.5% in 2015);
  • A much higher share of Suburban voters (40.9% now vs. 32.5% in 2015) and a much lower share of Rural voters (29.6% now vs. 37.0% in 2015).
  • In SD7 (Cheryl Turpin vs. Jen Kiggans), which is an important battleground, returned absentee ballots are running at about twice where they were at this point in 2015, but with “Modeled” GOP votes (746) higher than “Modeled” Democratic votes (533). There are also 130 “Modeled” “Other” absentee voters. Basically, this GOP-leaning partisan breakdown seems to be the result of returned absentees coming overwhelmingly from older, white voters. How much does this indicate for election day? Got me.
  • Another example: in SD8 (Missy Cotter Smasal vs. Sen. Bill DeSteph), another important battleground, returned absentee ballots are running at about three times (!) 2015 levels, but again, “Modeled” GOP votes (959) are running higher than “Modeled” Dem votes (561). There are also 147 “Modeled” “Other” absentee voters.
  • And one more example: in SD10 (Ghazala Hashmi vs. Sen. Glen Sturtevant), yet another key district, returned absentee ballots are also running about three times 2015 levels, but again, “Modeled” GOP votes (1,049) are ahead of “Modeled” Dem votes (794).
  • Overall, the number of absentees looks strong, but the demographic and partisan breakouts don’t look as good for Democrats. Not sure what to make of this exactly; any ideas? Maybe older, white voters are more Democratic in 2019 than in 2015, because of the “(anti-)Trump effect” or whatever? If so, maybe time to adjust the model?

Finally, check out the latest absentee numbers from the State Board of Elections website, which show that as of this morning, there had been 142,533 absentee ballot *requests* and 91,107 absentee ballots *returned* (up from 81,216 in TargetSmart’s Monday report). So, overall, the indications are that turnout will be a lot higher this time around than in 2015, which is not surprising given how many more districts have competitive races and how much money is being spent. But that, of course, doesn’t guarantee victory for either Democrats or Republicans, as it continues to be – as it’s always been – not just how many voters turn out, but which “base” is more energized. We’re going to find out the answer to that one in just a few days…


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