Examining Trends In Early Voting In Swing States

Many voters have already cast their ballots by taking advantage of early voting. Renee Montagne talks with Michael McDonald, Political Science Professor at George Mason University, about early voting. He directs the U.S. Election Project at the school.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Our next guest has been keeping track of trends in early voting. Michael McDonald directs the U.S. Election Project at George Mason University in Virginia. And he joins us now to talk about that.

Good morning.

MICHAEL MCDONALD: Good morning to you.

MONTAGNE: So, now you've been analyzing data from states that report the party affiliation of the people who voted early, which might seem quite important. So let's look at some of the swing states, starting with two states opposite sides of the country, Nevada and North Carolina. What can you tell us about those states?

MCDONALD: I think those two states are probably at this point most instructive about who may win those states. Now keep in mind there's still an opportunity for these things to change and we could be wrong. But certainly the candidates we list as well, because their travel schedule did include the states.

So, for Nevada, what we're looking at is a fairly strong signal that the record number of people who have voted in Nevada it's over 700,000 people. It's probably 70 percent of the entire vote on the electorate has already voted in Nevada. And those votes are breaking on heavily in favor of Obama. And the polling shows a lead for Obama in the state.

So it would be very unusual for Mitt Romney to somehow come from behind, to win Nevada. But still, you know, it's possible. And I don't want to discourage people from not voting today.

MONTAGNE: Right. And, but North Carolina?

MCDONALD: And then you can't a different pattern, the opposite pattern in North Carolina. It's a state that Obama won very narrowly in 2008. If there's been a shift nationally in the Republican direction since 2008, that's one state that would likely fall as a domino, if you will. And that's what we're seeing both in the early vote in the polling within North Carolina.

But still, again, there's plenty of other races down there in the ballot. And who knows what could happen on Election Day.

MONTAGNE: Right, and of course let's be really clear in this entire conversation. We're not talking about exit polls. We're not talking about actual votes. We're talking about early voting, sometimes measured by party and what it might tell us.

But in Florida, over the weekend, people waited in line for five, six hours trying to cast early ballots. Lawsuits were filed to extend early voting. What's the picture like there?

MCDONALD: Well, Florida is a state that's going to come down to Election Day. I mean there is any of the critical battleground states of Florida, Ohio or Virginia. The early votes is not giving us a strong enough signal as to who may be ahead, neither are the polls. And so, what it's going to come down to are those volunteers who, we've just heard, encouraging people to vote; people going out on their own initiative to go out and vote and bring those long lines.

Because although we have - you know, the good news about early voting is we've processed a lot of the vote already in these states. But we still have a long ways to go. We're only about halfway through everybody who's voted in Florida. We're only about 35 percent of the way through everybody who's voted in Ohio. So there's a lot of people out there left yet to vote.

MONTAGNE: So Ohio is not early voting what? It's going to be a smaller part of the mix in Ohio - of course, the key state possibly in this election.

MCDONALD: Well, Ohio is a state, and there are a number of other states that have already broken their 2008 record in terms of the raw vote. We'll have just wait and see exactly where we are with the vote as a share of the overall turnout. We can't, you know, quite know that yet, of course. But we are seeing this trend across the country, in both battleground states and non-battleground states, of having record number of raw votes cast so far in this election early.

So and Ohio is just another one of those states. They broke through their record last night in the last report. But with Ohio, when it comes to the early vote - and this is where we may be in overtime, if he gets really close in Ohio. If someone had postmarked an absentee ballot yesterday, election officials will accept those ballots all the way up until November 16th. And so, we have a ways yet to go with Ohio and counting all the votes there.

MONTAGNE: Well, thank you for talking with us. We'll have to leave it there. Michael McDonald teaches Political Science at George Mason University. Thanks very much.

MCDONALD: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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