Absentee ballot requests in Iowa exceed total early vote in 2008

Iowans have requested a record number of early ballots for the general election with more than a week left to vote by mail or early in person. As of October 24, 565,986 Iowans had requested absentee ballots—more than the number of Iowans who cast early votes in the 2008 general election (545,739).  

Iowa Democrats have requested about 75,000 more absentee ballots than Republicans and lead in ballot requests in three of the four Congressional districts. On October 23, Republicans finally overtook Democrats in absentee ballot requests in IA-04, where the GOP’s voter registration advantage is more than 50,000.

After the jump I’ve posted early voting numbers from the last three presidential elections in Iowa, along with the latest tables showing absentee ballots requested by voters and returned to county auditors. I’m updating the absentee ballot totals every weekday here, using data posted on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website.

Adrian Gray, a veteran of the 2004 Bush/Cheney campaign, has been commenting on early voting trends in various states on twitter. I disagree with some of his Iowa observations and explain why below.  

The data in this table come from the statewide statistical reports, which you can download as pdf files on this page of the Iowa Secretary of State’s website.

Election year total Democratic vote Democrats voting early total Republican vote Republicans voting early total no-party vote no-party voting early
2000 411,920 107,505 456,664 109,827 437,947 59,504
2004 492,050 193,766 510,214 141,196 495,477 125,097
2008 568,377 250,104 491,342 156,986 467,762 138,328
2010 395,312 155,421 447,445 136,243 281,546 68,499

Absentee ballots requested by Iowa voters as of October 24, 2012

Congressional district Democrats Republicans no-party voters
IA-01 66,164 38,535 39,672
IA-02 71,423 40,836 39,290
IA-03 64,706 47,435 31,091
IA-04 48,105 48,305 29,760
statewide 250,398 175,111 139,813

Absentee ballots received by Iowa county auditors as of October 24, 2012

Congressional district Democrats Republicans no-party voters
IA-01 48,273 27,963 24,835
IA-02 53,346 30,209 25,470
IA-03 46,677 34,091 19,264
IA-04 35,484 34,609 19,187
statewide 183,780 126,872 88,756

Looking at the absentee ballot numbers over the past month, you can see that for a while, Republicans were steadily cutting into the Democratic advantage in early voting. A spread of more than 80,000 as of September 18 had shrunk to less than 70,000 by October 12. After that point, the Democratic edge stabilized around 70,000, and in the past few days it has grown to 75,000.

Adrian Gray sees the Iowa race shaping up like 2004. He commented on October 23,

IOWA: Trending like 2004. Margin at 72k (with 31%R, 45%D, and 24%I). This point in 2004, margin 71k (with 27%R, 49%D, 25%I). Goal <60k.

Yesterday Gray observed,

IOWA: Still mirrors 2004. Today D margin is 74k (31%R, 44%D, 24%I) and closing. At 71k at same point in 2004 (was 27%R, 49%D, 25%I in 2004)

A couple of problems with this analysis: first, the Democratic margin stopped “closing” earlier this month.

Second, there were a lot more election-day voters in Iowa in 2004 than there will be this year. The statewide statistical report for 2004 shows that 1,497,741 Iowans cast ballots, of whom 460,059 voted early. That means 1,037,682 Iowans voted on election day.

This year the early vote in Iowa will be well above 600,000, perhaps closer to 700,000. If Democrats go into election day ahead by 70,000 or more early ballots, Romney will need a higher percentage of the late deciders to make up the difference. Gray’s model for a narrow Romney victory in Iowa is based on 547,000 early voters and total turnout around 1.53 million.

Gray also assumes no-party voters in Iowa will end up splitting for Romney 53 percent to 47 percent. Polls have been inconclusive on whether Obama or Romney leads among Iowa independents. Iowa Democrats feel confident in their program for generating early ballots from sympathetic no-party voters.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this year’s election results in Iowa will look more like 2004 than like the past three general elections, all waves. I think Obama will end up in the George W. Bush position of narrow winner, though.

Any comments about the presidential race are welcome in this thread.

P.S.- Voting in person at a county auditor’s office or satellite station has a lower error rate than mailing your absentee ballot.

UPDATE: As of October 25, the Democratic lead in absentee ballot requests had grown to more than 77,000, and the Democratic lead in ballots returned was a little more than 57,000. Statewide, 586,943 Iowans had requested absentee ballots, and county auditors had received 423,586 completed ballots.

Adrian Gray was still seeing the glass half-full on October 26:

Iowa: Partisan breakdown is 31% GOP and 44% Dem (rest are “no party”). In 2004 at this point, it was 27% GOP, 49% Dem (and Bush won IA).

Remember: fewer Iowans will vote on election day this year than in 2004. I also believe that college students will make up a larger share of no-party early voters this year than in 2004.

OCTOBER 29 UPDATE: As of October 27, the Democratic lead in Iowa absentee ballot requests had grown to 80,000 with more than 624,000 ballots requested statewide.

  • Independents

    I would say an independent early vote, simply by virtue of having been cast early, is more likely to be an Obama vote given the heavy Democratic emphasis on early voting.

    It is far from a settled question just how heavily Democratic the early independent votes are, but I would bet anything more support Obama.

  • i have no idea

    what "Adrian Gray" has to say, so my comments are just general in scope.

    Ballots returned are more to the point, and the partisan gap has been steadily decreasing, including late last week. There is no question about that.

    As far as the larger electorate and greater fraction of votes-by-absentee are concerned, it really depends on the composition of the absentees. People like you will vote regardless, and your preferences are obvious. Does it matter whether you voted last week or vote next Tues?

    The absentee issue is most salient for low turnout elections. I would rate the situation here as “inconclusive.”  

  • looking at these nrs

    2008 — Dem early voting was 46% of total

    2010 — Dem early voting share was 43% of total

    2012 — based on requested, Dem = 43.5%

    If a larger % of the total vote is absentee this time, as it appears it will be, then the election day voting might just be more GOP slanted than usual. I’m not sure the case has been made that the absentee voting represents a solid advantage unless there’s low turnout overall or the GOP fails to get its own voters out next Tues.  

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