Vote-by-Mail and Early In-Person Turnout in Florida, an Update

With just a day and a half of early in-person voting remaining (in large counties; it ends in most smaller counties today), and with about 80 hours left to get those VBM ballots to Supervisor of Elections offices (7pm Election Day deadline), I thought I’d look into who has voted so far in the Florida General Election.

The Division of Elections posts daily updates here, broken down by party; I dig deeper.

So, as of the morning of Saturday, October 31, 54.2% of the state’s registered voters have cast a ballot. That’s 8.3m voters out of over 15.3m who were on the books as of September 30 have voted. Below, I’ll discuss those who registered Oct 1-Oct 6.

Of those who have either had their VBM ballot accepted as “valid” (V) or have voted early in-person (EIP), 39.6% are Ds, 38.2% are Rs, and 20.9% are NPAs (No Party Affiliates). In raw numbers, that’s about 150k more Ds than Rs in raw numbers. Obviously, it’s how the NPAs break for Trump or Biden that will decide this election.

In 2016, NPAs on who turned out on Election Day voted decisively for Trump. Republicans made up about 40% of the 3m voters who cast their ballots on ED, Democrats about 35%, and the balance NPAs and 3rd party adherents. Trump won Election Day in the 2 party vote over Clinton by 13 points. That difference, 13 points, was NPA support for Trump, particularly among voters who are relatively infrequent voters.

So far in 2020, as a fraction of those registered by party, 58.4% of Ds have voted, 58.5% of Rs have voted, but only 43.0% of NPAs have voted. There is massive GOTV and persuasion targeting these voters, and for good reason.

With regard to race/ethnicity, in advance of November 3, 49.8% of the state’s 2m registered Black voters, 49.9% of the state’s 2.6m registered Hispanic voters, and 57.0% of the state’s 9.4m registered white voters have cast ballots (VBM + EIP). In addition, 50.2% of the 1.7m voters of other race/ethnicity (or unknown) have voted. These totals are of those who were registered as of September 30.

As for age groups, 39.4% of 18-23 year olds, 33.2% of 24-29 year olds, 41.7% of 30-44 year olds, 58.7% of 45-64 year olds, and 70.3% of 65+ have voted. There are 1.7x as many 65+ registered in the state (4.2m) than 18-29 year olds (2.5m), so the effect of lower youth turnout is only magnified in terms of impact on the vote totals. Maybe youth turnout is strong in other states, but if it’s going to make any impact in Florida, younger voters have some work do to heading into Election Day, dropping off their mail ballots (in person, one hopes), and voting in their local precinct on Tuesday.

There was lots of talk by Republicans about how they’ve narrowed the registration gap with Democrats this year. Nearly 857k registered by September 30, 2020, and already 42.8% have turnout out. More of these 2020 registrants who have voted are Rs than Ds — some 35k more, to be precise. In fact, more newly registered NPAs have voted (276k) than newly registered Ds (255k); 291k Rs who registered in the first 9 months of 2020 have voted.

So, what about those voters who got their registrations processed just under the state’s 29-day deadline (which was moved to 28-days before Election Day due to the crashing of the Secretary of State’s voter registration online portal). Nearly Some 184k Floridians registered in the waning days; 59k Rs, 52k Ds, and 65k NPAs. So far, 33.4% of Rs, 30.7% of Ds, and 31.7% of NPAs have voted. Pretty lack-luster turnout across the board, but particularly among Ds. Turnout of these newly registered voters is a function of age: Among Ds, 18-29 year olds make up roughly 42% of all late registrants, whereas they comprise only 33% of Rs last-minute registrants. If your GOTV strategy is to turn out these voters, either having them turn in the VBM ballots on time, or turning them out on Election Day, it’s a risky proposition.

Should be close to the finish. After all, it’s Florida.

OK, there’s been a tremendous amount written on voter registration trends, by party, in Florida. It’s all wrong. Here’s why.

I’ve published quite a bit on the topic, served as an expert witness in dozens of successful lawsuits, and know these files inside and out.

Here are the facts, using proper voter files (i.e., contemporaneous), comparing Jan-July 2016 registration numbers with Jan-July 2020 voter registration numbers, comparing apples to apples.

To look at new registrations (that is, how the parties and groups are doing on the ground), you cannot merely use the Florida Division of Elections summary files to figure this out, as I explained four years ago, here.

OK, here are the numbers. Comparable voter registration, as of July 1, 2020, was down by a total of 136,392 registrants. And Democrats and Republicans both account for 32.1% of new registrants over the first six months of the year.

New Registrations by Party, January-June, 2016 vs. January-June 2020

Dem Rep NPA 3rd Total
Jan-June 2016 152,320 131,059 149,090 10,273 442,742
34.4% 29.6% 33.7% 2.3% 100.0%
Jan-June 2020 98,439 98,472 99,879 9,560 306,350
32.1% 32.1% 32.6% 3.1% 100.0%
Difference (2020-2016) -53,881 -32,587 -49,211 -713 -136,392
-2.3% 2.5% -1.1% 0.8%

 

So, cut these numbers as you will, but by no means can it be said that Democrats are killing it out there.  In fact, a total of 33 more Republicans registered to vote anew between January 1 and June 30 (and remained registered as of June 30) than newly registered Democrats.

COVID-19 is obviously the major reason why Democratic numbers are down, as nonpartisan groups who usually hit the ground are not as active, SOEs who usually are in the schools preregistering young voters had no classrooms to go to in April or May, etc.  We’ve seen this pattern before, in 2011, after the Republican legislature passed HB 1355, which, among other things, cracked down on voter registration efforts by 3PVROs, as Michael Herron and I have written about before.

Perhaps Democrats and their allies will turn it around before the October registration date. Young voters who register immediately before an election in Florida are more likely to turn out in that proximate election, as Enrijeta Shino and I find, but their turnout levels aren’t sustained in subsequent elections, casting some doubt on the habitualization of voting.

But until we get some book closing numbers, the data are what they are. Republicans, as a proportion of new registrants in Florida, are doing better than they did four years ago over the first six months of the presidential election year.

Interested in Vote-by-Mail? Two papers on rejected VBM ballots in Florida & Georgia, as referenced in @NYTimes https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/25/us/vote-by-mail-coronavirus.html are available here:

“Voting by Mail and Ballot Rejection: Lessons from Florida for Elections in the Age of the Coronavirus”

“Voting by Mail in a VENMO World: Assessing Rejected Absentee Ballots in Georgia”

 

Voting by Mail and Ballot Rejection: Lessons from Florida for Elections in the Age of the Coronavirus

Anna Baringer, Michael C. Herron, and Daniel A. Smith, available here.

Abstract
The COVID-19 pandemic and its concomitant need for social distancing have increased the attractiveness of voting by mail. This form of voting is nonetheless not a panacea for election administration in the time of a public health crisis, as a widespread move to ballots cast by voting by mail risks exacerbating existing inequities in mail-in ballot rejection rates across voters and jurisdictions. This motivates our examination of the roughly 9.6 million and 8.2 million ballots cast in the 2016 and 2018 general elections in Florida, respectively, including over 2.6 million vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots cast in each. Using a selection model that analyzes all ballots cast and those VBM ballots not counted in Florida in these two elections, we find that younger voters, voters not registered with a major political party, and voters in need of assistance when voting are disproportionately likely to have their VBM ballots not count. We also find disproportionately high rejection rates of mail ballots cast by Hispanic voters, out-of-state voters, and military dependents in the 2018 general election. Lastly, we find significant variation in the rejection rates of VBM ballots cast across Florida’s 67 counties in the 2018 election, suggesting a non-uniformity in the way local election officials verify these ballots. As interest in expanding mail voting swells as a consequence of the novel coronavirus, protecting the rights of all voters to participate in electoral politics requires a characterization of the correlates of VBM ballot rejection with an eye toward considering how disparities in ballot rejection rates might be rectified.