Early voting
Photo by Keith Ivey, Flickr creative commons.

San Diego County voters began casting ballots Oct. 10 in dozens of races for federal, state, county and local offices and for ballot measures.

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[box type=”shadow this-matters”]Voters across San Diego County have been casting early ballots for more than three weeks, and it should soon become clear which candidates in several hard-fought contests have the turnout advantage heading into the election on Nov. 8.[/box]

As of Monday, the county’s registrar of voters had sent out 1,106,390 mail-in ballots, the most ever issued, with thousands still to be sent out by the end of the week.

Voters have returned 294,488 of them, a 26.6 percent return rate.

inewsource has created a searchable map that will be updated daily through the Nov. 8 election to show how many mail-in ballots have been returned in each precinct.

Vince Vasquez, a local independent elections analyst, has an idea as to why more voters haven’t turned in their ballots.

First, he said, absentee voters are taking their time studying their ballots at home — something he said can be expected with this year’s extra-long “jumbo ballot.” Second, many absentee voters may be filling their ballots out in advance but plan to drop them off at a polling place on Election Day.

“I think some people really enjoy the recognition and the experience on Election Day of getting those ‘I voted’ stickers — something you can’t get from the mail,” Vasquez said.

Campaign operatives in competitive races watch where early votes are cast because they know which precincts have voters most likely to cast ballots for their candidate or measure. They use this data to dispatch volunteers to those precincts to encourage more voters to mail in their ballots.

Vasquez noted that the typical presidential general election sees 55 to 60 percent of total ballots cast as absentee. In 2012, 56.1 percent of the electorate voted absentee.

Source: San Diego County Registrar of Voters | Graphic by Joe Yerardi

Vasquez expects that number to rise this year, as it has in every election since 1992.

“You continue to see year after year more voters re-registering or registering for the first time as absentee,” Vasquez said.

In the November 2012 election, total turnout hit 77 percent of registered voters.

Vasquez expects that number to rise, as well.

“Overall, I think we’re going to see an 80 percent — more than 80 percent — turnout rate on Election Day,” Vasquez said, particularly with the choice at the top of the ticket.

INTERACTIVE: Click here for a searchable map of early voting results by precinct.
INTERACTIVE: Click here for a searchable map of early voting results by precinct.

“With Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, everybody has an opinion on these candidates,” Vasquez said. “Everybody has a general sense as to whether they think one or the other is qualified to be president and I think that’s going to be one of these really easy driving factors to turn out people to the polls.”

In terms of the partisan makeup of returned ballots, Republicans hold the registration advantage in nine of the 10 precincts that have returned the highest proportion of their absentee ballots (when excluding mail-only precincts with just a handful of voters).

Vasquez said that’s to be expected as the most dedicated voters — both in terms of those who request absentee ballots and those who mostly reliably turn them in — tend to be the most partisan.

“Early voting is more still an older voting phenomenon — people who are 55 and over,” Vasquez said. “Typically they’re partisan voters so they’re simply getting those endorsement slate cards from the Democratic and Republican parties, using that to make the choices and that’s why they’re able to return those ballots so quickly.”

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As we approach Election Day, Vasquez said to expect a rise in the percentage of ballots from those with no party preference. He also expected more Democratic voters to vote in the coming week and on Election Day as younger and demographically diverse, Democratic-leaning constituencies cast ballots.

Today is the last day for county voters to apply for a mail-in ballot. Mail ballot voters who would prefer to drop their ballot off in person may do so at the Registrar of Voters Office at 5600 Overland Ave. in San Diego and at 24 other locations throughout the county. If a mail ballot is to count, it must be postmarked by 8 p.m. on Election Day and received by Nov. 14, three business days (Nov. 11 is a holiday) after the Nov. 8 election.

Joe Yerardi is a freelance data journalist for inewsource, where he worked between 2013 and 2016 as an investigative reporter and data specialist. To contact him with questions, tips or corrections, email joe.yerardi@gmail.com.