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About PDI’s Early Vote Tracker

by | Oct 27

Ballots have been mailed, so that means it’s time for the PDI Ballot Tracker: keeping tabs on all the ballot returns, and letting you see the partisan, age, ethnic and other factors going into turnout in this critical election.

We now have more than 10 days of vote returns, totaling more than a million ballots.

The ballot tracker is available on our website, or you can get our free emailed reports for statewide returns, or returns in your local Assembly, Senate, Congressional district, County, County Supervisor, City, or City Council districts. Just complete this form to sign up. And you can sign up to receive more than one report.

As we have emphasized for decades, reading the early vote tea leaves can be extremely problematic. We cannot directly correlate early ballot returns to final vote totals, and definitely not election outcomes, in any really predictable way.

It is common for us to see early votes and infer from those the enthusiasm of the electorate. But numbers can vary greatly based on other reasons – like California’s shift to everyone getting a ballot, certain counties simply processing them faster, or some reporting them more regularly. Or rates can differ based on conspiracy theories about early voting that can slow down or speed up the returns by partisans on both sides.

With those caveats, we can look at the more than a million ballots and get a sense of where they are coming from based on geography, partisanship, age, and ethnicity in this one report. This ballot tracker includes a first page with the overviews of ballots received as of today, along with a mapping showing the Democratic and Republican strengths by precinct. The second page gives an interesting perspective of how these subgroups have performed over time.

2022 General Ballot Tracker as of Friday, October 21 Returns

When these returns are compared to the 2020 Presidential General, we find that Republicans and Independents, based on raw ballot return counts, are falling about half-way below their previous numbers. For example, Republicans are at roughly 303,000 ballots returned as of Friday, but in the equivalent timeframe in the 2020 General they were at 610,000 returns.

Democrats, however, are at an even greater disparity from their sky-high early returns in the 2020. They are down to about a third of their raw voter turnout – 530,000 so far this year, compared with 1.6 million at a similar point in 2020.

This graphic shows these rates of returns from 2020 General to now, in raw numbers of ballots.

Looking at raw numbers is one important lens, but we can also see the share of ballots as a percentage currently returned. This gives a different perspective for how ballots are shaping up in an election that should have lower total turnout than a presidential election. In the 2020 General, at this point, Democrats had a whopping 36-point advantage over Republicans (57% – 21%) this has narrowed significantly to a 21-point advantage (49% – 28%).

The 2020 General was held during a period of lockdowns and an environment where Republicans were being told that vote by mail ballots would be changed, or thrown away, and Democrats were being urged to return their ballots immediately because the Trump administration was going to slow down ballots in Democratic areas. These two sets of conspiracy theories led to a kind of reverse-polarization of early voting trends which had typically meant larger Republican votes early, and more Democratic voting in late vote by mail, and in person at polling locations.

Looking at a more recent election, we can see that Democrats are holding pace with their raw ballot returns in the Primary election (530,000 compared to 512,000 in the primary), and Republicans are overperforming (300,000 compared to 250,000 in the primary).

As shares of ballots, Democrats are still performing below their Primary Election percentages at the equivalent time in the election. Democrats are down by 4-points and Republicans are up by 2-points.

As shares of ballots, Democrats are still performing below their Primary Election percentages at the equivalent time in the election. Democrats are down by 4-points and Republicans are up by 2-points.

While performing at earlier election numbers may feel a bit more satisfying to Democrats than the comparison to the 2020 General, the 2022 Primary was only 33% turnout. This means that Democrats are on track, but for a much lower turnout election. This should be disconcerting given expectations in California and nationally that we could be headed to record-high mid-term election turnout – akin to the 2018 Democratic wave election.

The tracking numbers should get more interesting as we get through this third week of voting. Make sure you’re signed up for the tracker, and reach out to our team with any questions.