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Early voting turnout seen benefiting Republicans

November 6, 2018 GMT

Early voting has been heavy this year, the political parties and experts agree in many cases blowing past records set in the last midterm elections in 2014.

What they can’t yet say is who is better off for it.

At least 36 million people have already voted, calculated University of Florida elections expert Michael McDonald, well ahead of the 20.5 million he had at this point four years ago.

“I’m pretty sure that all states will pass their 2014 number,” he tweeted.

The conventional wisdom is that Democrats have an enthusiasm advantage, and that does appear to be playing out in some key states.

Take Florida, where incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson needs to hold his seat to give his party some hope of taking control of the upper chamber.

Some 5 million early ballots have been cast, or nearly 2 million more than 2014. Registered Democrats account for 40.6 percent of the ballots, while 40.1 percent were from Republicans, and the rest were independent of the two major parties.

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On the surface, that seems good news for Democrats, given the party has trailed in early voting there in past elections. What’s more, almost that entire tiny advantage came in a final day surge, according to political analyst John Couvillon.

Not so fast, even some sharp Democrats said. That’s because among what the experts refer to as “3 for 3s,” or “4 for 4s” meaning reliable voters who have gone to polling stations and voted in three or four straight elections Republicans hold a strong 200,000-vote edge.

Partisan voter turnout reflects registration, not how someone actually voted. It’s also not yet certain whether the early voting records mean more votes will be cast overall, or whether people who voted in-person in the past are shifting to early ballots.

In Arizona, Democrats crowed over early returns that showed women comprised 52.5 percent of early voting a six-point lead over men while the same statistic in Tennessee favored women 54.4 to 45.5 percent.

Republicans did hold a better than 7 percentage point advantage in registration among early voters, according to figures released by the Arizona secretary of state’s office.

As if that partisan political ping-pong weren’t confusing enough, the Arizona and Montana races were thrown additional late curve balls when a third-party candidate dropped out of the race.

Republicans should be less sure in Nevada, where Sen. Dean Heller is trying to hold onto his seat. Jon Ralston, a respected Silver State political analyst, said Democrats ended up with a 3.4 percentage point advantage in early voting registration.

That reflects a Democratic surge, given the early voting figures on Halloween showed the Democrats up by 2 percent.

“There’s so much going on I’ll be happy when it ends and we can go to the December runoffs,” Mr. Couvillon said. “And there’s definitely going to be some December runoffs.”

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One of those could be in Georgia, scene of one of the most captivating governor’s races. Democrat Stacey Abrams is bidding to become the first black woman elected to a governor’s mansion, early voting set a record with more than 2 million. That’s more than double 2014′s total.

Of those, 1.9 million were in-person early votes, while 184,925 were mailed ballots, the secretary of state announced.

“The numbers on early voting in Nevada and Georgia are off the charts for the Dems,” Mr. Couvillon said, noting that Hillary Clinton narrowly took Nevada in 2016 largely on the back of her early voting lead.