While Tempting, When it Comes to Early Voting Numbers in Georgia…

The biggest Congressional special election this season is arguably in Georgia’s Sixth District, where Democrats are hoping Jon Ossoff can clear 50% in the crowded primary. Though unlikely (he’s polling around 40%, with Republicans vying over another 50-55% depending on the survey), an outright win would be a big boost for Democrats. If he falls short, Republicans will have plenty of time to unify for the runoff, and he’ll likely lose that round, so all the emphasis is on April 18th. To that effect, many, including us, have started monitoring the early vote tallies. In-person early voting began on Monday, and combined with mail-ins, 3,372 ballots have been cast so far. People have burned themselves before by reading too much into early tallies. So, here are three things to look at as these early vote tallies stack up.

Early Voting Overall

Currently, the count stands at 3,372 ballots cast. Early voting ends on Thursday, April 13th, giving residents 13 more days to cast in-person before election day (including today). For a historical comparison, we don’t have a Congressional breakdown by day, but we do have district wide tallies for 2014 and 2016. In the 2014 cycle, a total of 70,717 votes were cast via absentee or in-person early. In last year’s Presidential one, a massive 195,852 were. If the current rate remains constant (which is doubtful, as early voting undulates), we’re looking at 25,290 votes cast early. If we a see a really big surge in early voting, it doesn’t indicate one way or another how the race is going. Early voting was huge in Florida and North Carolina in 2016, but election day voters tipped both races to Donald Trump. We can’t even use early votes here to estimate what overall turnout will look like: in 2014, early votes were a fraction of the overall total, in 2016, they made up over half of all ballots cast.

Early Voting by County

DeKalb is the most traditionally Democratic portion of the entire district, voting narrowly for Tom Price in both 2014 and 2016. It cast 43,232 early and absentee votes in 2016, 14,636 in 2014. Currently, DeKalb has cast 532 out of the 3,372 early votes, 15.78% of the total. That share is smaller than its 2014 participation (21% of total early votes cast) and 2012 (22%). If DeKalb’s share begins to rise, it’s probably a better sign for Ossoff. If it stays disengaged, he can’t count on an election day “surge there”. Two-thirds of the Congressional Democratic vote cast there in 2016 (34,326 votes for Rodney Stooksbury) were banked early. A far larger share of Tom Price’s vote in the county came on election day, so the election day vote skews more Republican. A lackluster performance in DeKalb does not rule Ossoff out for a first-round win, but it will make that a bit tougher.

Here’s the votes cast early and share of district wide total by county for 2014:

Cobb 21746 early 31%

DeKalb 14686 early 21%

Fulton  34286 early 48%

and for 2016

Cobb 43082 early 22%

DeKalb 43232 early 22%

Fulton 109538 early 56%

Who is Voting Early, BEYOND Party

Now we come to the part that has tripped up so many people who have tried to model a final result off of just early votes cast: analyzing who is actually showing up. Since the Democrats are pumped for the chance to snag this seat, it should come as no surprise that they’ve cast more ballots early. For a historical reference, Congressman Price won the early and absentee vote in 2016 by about 55.5-44.5%. Per Prof. Michael McDonald, here is the breakdown of the vote so far:

Democrats are excited that the early vote has been very Democratic. But before they get extremely giddy by that fact, they need to look at the age and racial composition (skewing well over 50 and very, very white). For Ossoff, a surge in younger, non-white voters would be an even stronger sign that he is building an early vote edge. In 2014, early voting in North Carolina skewed Democratic, but some overlooked the age and racial composition, and assumed Senator Kay Hagan had built a comfortable lead.

Overall, early voting gives us a nice peak into enthusiasm, but may tempt some to jump the gun on calling the race well before we’ve hit election day. Let’s enjoy the first potentially competitive race of 2017, without counting chickens.