Georgia’s Early Vote and Ossoff’s First-Round Win Chances

Recent polling, including the RRH survey sponsored by DDHQ, suggests Jon Ossoff has a firm lead but will fall short of a first round win. Here’s what we’re watching to see if he surprises on Tuesday.

The Early Vote

Nate Cohn of the New York Times has been using previous primary participation to estimate the number of Republican and Democratic voters who have cast ballots early in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional Special. As of last night, that estimate stood at 19,744 Republicans and 20,357 Democrats, with another 7,816 who hadn’t voted in a primary recently. Being very, very generous to Democrat Jon Ossoff, let’s assume he’s winning every single Democratic vote, 65% of the “no previous primary”, and a 15% crossover from Republicans. In this really generous split, he’s currently earning 59.27% of the early vote cast. Keep in mind, we do not know who is crossing over, if any of the other four Democrats are getting substantial votes from the Democrats, and how the “no previous primary” vote actually splits. We’re being, in my opinion, very generous with this scenario: if he’s getting far less crossover, and he’s not totally dominating the “no primary”, he’s earning closer to 53-54% of the early vote. Estimating this stuff reminds me of the Drake Equation: beyond a few strong inferences about the number of worlds forming around the average star and the average lifespans of said stars, everything else is fancy guessing.

Thankfully, the State of Georgia will tell us how these votes are cast on election night. Depending on the discretion of each authority, early vote tallies may be counted first. Only a few states clearly-and cleanly- update their early votes in the first round: North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Nevada, or at least their largest counties, come to mind. Georgia can be a mixed bag, but if given the option we’ll try to input the mail-in and in-person early first. If the election centers won’t have these cleanly split, the State will show those divisions a bit later in the evening, and from our previous experience covering races in Georgia, we’re going to be waiting anyway for the bulk of the returns. Once the early vote can be separated out, we’ll know definitively how well Ossoff actually did, before all of the election day tallies finish rolling in.

Election Day

As the early tallies have piled up, we’ve noticed, based on Cohn’s estimates, that Republicans really started to show up this week, while Democrats appear to be leveling off day over day (brief PSA: today is the last day to vote early). Almost 55% of those who last cast a ballot in a Democratic primary voted in the first two weeks of early voting, while only 35% of those who last cast a ballot in a Republican one voted in the same period. This week has seen the heaviest days of early turnout, as the number of voting centers exploded in each county. With Republicans finally showing up in what is supposed to be a district dominated by them, and Democrats mostly leveling off, a few questions arise for Tuesday.

How much of the election day vote will be Republicans finally deciding between eleven different candidates?

Based on the early vote trend, we’re going to assume a majority of the Election Day voters will be Republican, but we won’t dare guess a margin. Initially slow to cast, likely because the Republican side of this election has been a battle royal between four major candidates and seven also-rans, over 10,000 of them have suddenly appeared in the last four days. We don’t see that abruptly receding on Tuesday.

Will Democratic voters in DeKalb turn out?

DeKalb’s early voting centers are far removed from a lot of its voters, and this is a problem for Jon Ossoff. The DeKalb County region of the Sixth District is far and away the most Democratic: it narrowly voted for Tom Price in 2016 and was close in 2014, and Clinton crushed Trump here in 2016. DeKalb usually acounts for about half as many early votes as Fulton County, and so far for this special they are badly trailing that pace. Democrats will need a good push Tuesday here to keep the overall turnout more balanced, as suburban Republicans in Cobb and Fulton will be showing up.

Where are the votes coming from?

As numbers begin to roll in, keep this rough order in mind: DeKalb, Fulton, Cobb. In statewide elections, downstate reports the fastest, followed quickly by the counties along the South Carolina border, Savannah, and Macon, and the Atlanta Metro Counties are typically the last to report. Within the Atlanta area, DeKalb tends to get at least some of its numbers in relatively early, followed by Fulton, and lastly, the two largest suburban counties, Gwinnett and Cobb, begin to trickle in. If the initial bout of ballots are friendly to Ossoff, check to see where they are coming from. If these are DeKalb numbers, good for him, but it’s what we would expect. If instead Fulton and Cobb are reporting first, and the numbers are strong for Ossoff, he’s having a very good night. On the other hand, if DeKalb is reporting first, but Ossoff is in the low 50s or even under 50% there, his odds of a first round win drop dramatically. DeKalb will be the most Democratic region, Cobb the most Republican, and Fulton somewhere in-between if the special mirrors partisan patterns from previous cycles.