For the next several weeks, I will be presenting data relevant to the 2020 election, with a focus on absentee ballot requests, accepted absentee and early returns, and voter registration changes. That data is available through the Civitas Institute’s Vote Tracker and other listed sources.
Absentee requests drop but are still at historic levels
The NC State Board of Elections reported that 66,422 absentee ballot requests were accepted last week, a decline of 26,508 from the previous week (see figure 1). The total number of requests as of yesterday stands at 930,047, including 464,696 Democrats, 162,155 Republicans, and 299,321 unaffiliated. The number of requests is 13.2 times higher than at the same point in 2016.
There was a dramatic increase in absentee ballot requests in August and September, as both major parties and several political organizations pushed absentee voting and sent voters absentee ballot request forms. As groups prepare for early voting there has been an almost equally dramatic decline. Even if groups launch another round of pushing for absentee voting, they will likely get diminishing returns for their efforts since voters who are amenable to such persuasion have already responded to those earlier efforts.
Democrats are getting their ballots in faster than are Republicans
The early birds came out in force last week. As seen at the Civitas Institute’s Vote Tracker, nearly 100,000 absentee ballots were accepted last week, bringing the total accepted to 124,159. That represents about 2.5% of the roughly five million votes expected in the 2020 election in North Carolina. That likely represents an undercount of the actual number of accepted ballots since some counties, such as Buncombe, have been slow in reporting returns.
As first noted last week, absentee voters continue to skew older than in 2016.
Given the large gap between the parties on the number of absentee ballots requested (see below), the raw numbers of absentee votes accepted by party this year, while important, is more a demonstration of voters choosing different modes of voting than a measure of turnout. So I will focus on what proportion of the absentee ballots requested by Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters has been returned and accepted.
As can be seen in figure 2, Democrats have so far returned ballots at a higher rate than have Republican or unaffiliated voters. As of September 20, 14.8% of the absentee ballots requested by Democrats have been returned and accepted compared to 12.0% for Republicans and unaffiliated voters.
In a change from 2016, Republicans are out-registering Democrats and unaffiliate voters
In the two weeks since September 5 (the day after absentee ballots were first mailed to voters) there has been a net increase of 14,246 Republicans, 11,700 unaffiliated voters, and 7,358 Democrats. That is a change from a similar time in 2016 (September 10 to 24). As can be seen at the Voter Registration Changes page at the Civitas Institute’s Carolina Elections, there was a net gain of 6,337 Republicans, 15,090 unaffiliated voters, and 6,520 Democrats (see figure 3).
The question is whether this Republican advantage in voter registration will continue through October 15, when same-day registration associated with early voting (which traditionally favors Democrats) begins.
While the 6,888 registration advantage Republicans have gained over the past two weeks seems small consider that there will probably be over five million votes the November 3 election, that advantage is approaching Gov. Roy Cooper’s 10,277 vote margin of victory in 2016.