California's recall election: Expert breaks down early ballot returns

With exactly two weeks to go, more than 4 million ballots have been returned in the California recall election of Governor Gavin Newsom. That's according to Political Data Inc.'s ballot tracker

So far, Democrats represent 54% of the returns, outpacing Republicans and ‘other’ at 24% and 22% respectively.  "It looks like we’ve stuck with these cycles of Democrats voting earlier, Republicans voting later," said PDI Vice President Paul Mitchell.  "We just have to see whether those Republican ballots come in at the end."

Mitchell says the early numbers are following partisan patterns carried over from the 2020 presidential election, driven by former President Donald Trump's rhetoric on the practice of voting-by-mail. 

What strikes Mitchell, is the huge gap in turnout by age. More than a third of people 65 and over have voted, while people 18-35 are at less than 10%.  

"Particularly the Democrats in that young person pool, if they don’t turn out and vote, then it’s going to be hard for Democrats to get the same kind of overall turnout they need," said Mitchell. 

Mitchell says turnout among Latinos will also be a major factor in this race. So far, the numbers show returns at 11%, and recent polls show Latino voters are split on whether or not to recall. Perhaps in a nod to Latinos and young voters, Newsom's campaign launched a new ad featuring Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator carried support from both groups by a wide margin in last year's presidential primary in California.  

At an event in Oakland Tuesday, Newsom said he's encouraged by early returns.  "People are very active, very participatory in this election and we’re seeing that gap in terms on knowledge of what is at stake close very rapidly." 

Republicans maintain their voters are energized and say they will close the gap, leading up to and on September 14. 

"For California to truly have change we need to recall this governor," said Jessica Millan Patterson, the chairwoman of the California GOP. " I am confident the voters are going to go out there, they’re going to turn out and they’re going to say, let’s do something different so we can have a better California." 

With more than 18 million ballots outstanding, Mitchell cautions against reading too much into the early numbers, and likens this race to a Tour de France.  "It’s real easy to say that guy on the breakaway is clearly going to win, he’s way ahead of everybody else," said Mitchell. "The peloton does catch up, and things can change."