Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Virginia Absentee Balloting and Turnout

We don't have final numbers yet, but it's likely that Virginia shattered its records for both sheer numbers of absentee ballots cast and the percentage of the total vote that absentee ballots made up.

Just as an example, in the Curmudgeon's Arlington County, absentee ballots accounted for 35,000 out of 110,000 votes (and went almost 80% for Obama). That means 32% of Arlingtonians voted absentee (compared to 13% in 2004). Granted, Arlington election officials pushed absentee voting this election, and probably avoided long lines at the polls as a result.

We think the absentee numbers for Fairfax County will be similar, but in other counties the numbers will be more traditional. (In 2004, absentee voters cast 7.4% of the votes in Va.)

This tells us that Virginia voters want--and ought to have--"early voting." We define early voting as voting that begins before election "day" (usually about two weeks before) and requires no excuse, in contrast to absentee voting, which does require an excuse. Typically, in early voting, a county will set up several walk-in polling sites at convenient places around the county, instead of just the one site that existed in Arlington (and other Virginia counties).

In North Carolina, Tennesse and Georgia, which have liberal early voting, well over half the state's voters had cast their ballots before election day. Virginians should be accorded the same right--it's just not convenient for everyone to go to the polls on one day--a workday at that--and it's not realistic either.

We'll also be interested in seeing the final turnout numbers for Virginia (after Fairfax County posts its still outstanding 80,000-100,000 absentee votes). As of now, Virginia turnout is 70.5% of active voters, and we think it will end up around 72-73%.

That sounds like a nice figure, but it's really not that much different than 2004, when turnout was 71.4%. However, higher turnout this time may have been in more Obama friendly jurisdictions.

For example, turnout in Arlington this year was almost 77%, compared to 73% in 2004.

We won't have final data on absentee voting and turnout for a few more days, which is just as well--we need to take a break!

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