Early numbers show CA mail-in-ballot returns well ahead of 2016, so far

Just one week after California voters began to receive their mail-in ballots, more than 1 million have already been returned, and the number is growing steadily.

Those numbers are according to the Secretary of State and  "Political Data, Inc," a non-partisan consulting firm, that compiles voter data and analyzes trends. “In 2016, we saw 13,000 ballots by the Friday of that first week, this election cycle we saw over 250,000 ballots, a 20-fold increase," said Paul Mitchell, vice president of PDI.  

Mitchell said the rush of ballots prompted them to launch their "Ballot Returned Tracker" early. Even accounting for the fact all 22 million registered voters were mailed a ballot, Mitchell says the early return rate is huge. “Even if you were to discount that huge rush by a third or even just be really aggressive and cut it by a half, it’s still wildly historic numbers," said Mitchell. 

The data shows 90% of those early ballots are from people who were already considered "likely voters." Mitchell says many factors, including voter enthusiasm could be contributing to the early rush. “What we might see is people are frontloading," explains Mitchell.  "They were going to vote any way, but because of their excitement or anger or agitation, or because they’re home, it’s easier." 

California trends usually show Republicans voting early, but the tracker shows the returns so far favor Democrats. Mitchell says the switch may be the result of "virtue signaling" and/or the rhetoric surrounding vote-by-mail.  "Democrats are saying they want to vote early, where a lot of Republicans are saying they don’t trust the vote by mail, so they want to vote later or vote at the polls," said Mitchell. "So, we’re seeing that partisan dynamic.”

These trends could shift how numbers typically move on election night.  In California, Mitchell says later voters are typically younger Democrats.  That, oftentimes leading to a "blue shift," which could be tempered by the early rush. “There might not be a blue shift," said Mitchell. "Will there be a red shift? Where it goes the opposite way? I think that’s probably too much. I think there’s going to be a more balanced, more representative electorate.”

Mitchell says California's trends are similar to what we're seeing in many other states. But, with the return percentage still in the single digits, he cautiions against drawing too much out of the numbers, too soon “It’s a dynamic we’re going to have to watch," said Mitchell. "I don’t think it’s game, set, match for anybody, when we’re just talking about the first 1% of voters to return their ballots.”