We are beginning to get the first early voting statistics out of North Carolina, which started mailing absentee ballots on Friday, Sept. 7. Election officials report delivering 21,875 mail ballots as of Saturday, September 9, and two ballots were accepted. Congratulations Daniel and Justin, you are the first two people to vote for president in the 2012 general election!
What do the number of ballot requests tell us so far?
It is difficult to make a true comparison to 2008 since the first day that election administrators mailed ballots in 2008 was on Monday, September 15 and in 2012 it was earlier on Friday, September 7. To make the most consistent comparison as possible, I generate statistics for the this first date of mailing of ballots.
The number of absentee ballot applications is down by nearly half from 2008. In 2008, election officials had received 37,539 applications compared to 20,695 in 2012, or 45% fewer applications. The number of applications from registered Republicans is down more than Democrats, which are also down. The percentage of registered Republicans declined by 55% while the percentage of registered Democrats declined 35%. Thus registered Republicans composed 51% of the earliest absentee ballot applications in 2008 and 42% in 2012.
These numbers appear to confirm a report from Chapman University finding military absentee ballot applications are down from 2008. While news reports primarily discuss problems with the administration of elections, which are significant for overseas and military voters, they fail to consider that military personnel may have been particularly enthusiastic in 2008 to vote for veteran John McCain.
Still, this cannot be the whole story since the majority of requests are from civilians. There were only 3,949 military absentee ballot applications in 2008 and 2,127 in 2012. Whatever is going on is also affecting civilian voters. Pamela Mitchell, Acting Director of the Federal Voting Assistance Program, notes that ballot applications are on par with 2004, the last time there was an uncontested nomination for the incumbent president's party. Perhaps this is a the reason, or something else is happening.
It is also worth noting that eventually registered Democrats far outpaced registered Republicans in 2008, especially once North Carolina started in-person early voting. Absentee ballots were only 8.6% of all early votes cast in 2008.
The lesson, while these statistics are interesting, caution should be taken when making simple comparisons at different points in time across different elections.