By Kevin Uhrmacher and Lazaro Gamio
Oct. 21, 2016

Forget Nov. 8 — voting in the 2016 general election began weeks ago.

Even before the candidates took the stage for their third, most substantive debate, hundreds of thousands of votes had already been submitted to election officials in several battleground states such as Florida, Georgia and Iowa. The votes, which won’t be counted until Election Day, came in the form of absentee ballots and early voting.

EARLY VOTING BALLOTS

PROCESSED AS OF OCT. 19

Predicted

Safe

Clinton

The Fix’s

Forecast

Trump

Toss-up

Each square

is 1,000

early-voting

ballots cast

in a state

Florida

758,420

Michigan

169,524

Ohio

74,249

Iowa

Georgia

215,891

331,424

Neb.

54,893

Wisconsin

Arizona

Illinois

183,696

100,258

162,180

Virginia

Minn.

S.C.

N.C.

128,823

88,593

59,411

46,239

Kentucky

Maine

19,820

34,206

Delaware

N.D.

Idaho

Montana

7,909

42,609

22,992

21,814

W. Va.

3,965

R.I.

Nevada

Colorado

N.M.

3,026

4,380

8,816

5,977

Calif.

1,103

EARLY VOTING BALLOTS

PROCESSED AS OF OCT. 19

The Fix’s Forecast

Predicted

Safe

Each square is 1,000

early-voting ballots

cast in a state

Clinton

Trump

Toss-up

Florida

758,420

Michigan

Iowa

Georgia

Wisconsin

169,524

215,891

331,424

183,696

Neb.

N.C.

S.C.

Ohio

Arizona

Virginia

Illinois

Minn.

74,249

46,239

59,411

54,893

88,593

162,180

128,823

100,258

R.I.

Calif.

3,026

1,103

W. Va.

Nevada

N.M.

Col.

3,965

4,380

5,977

8,816

Del.

N.D.

Montana

7,909

21,814

22,992

Maine

Ky.

Idaho

19,820

34,206

42,609

EARLY VOTING BALLOTS PROCESSED AS OF OCT. 19

Each square is 1,000

early-voting ballots

cast in a state

Predicted

Safe

The Fix’s

Forecast

Clinton

Trump

Toss-up

Florida

758,420

Michigan

Iowa

Georgia

Wisconsin

169,524

215,891

331,424

183,696

Nebraska

N.C.

S.C.

Ohio

Arizona

Virginia

Illinois

Minnesota

74,249

46,239

59,411

54,893

88,593

162,180

128,823

100,258

Calif.

R.I.

W. Va.

1,103

Nev.

3,026

3,965

4,380

N.M.

Col.

Ky.

Del.

5,977

8,816

19,820

7,909

Montana

Idaho

Maine

N.D.

34,206

21,814

42,609

22,992

This data, collected by Michael McDonald, an associate professor at the University of Florida, is one of the best sources for early-voting tallies across the country.

Collecting vote totals from 50 different state voting systems, plus the District of Columbia, presents a mammoth challenge, and in some cases, the data is not freely available to the public.

McDonald also stressed that the completeness of these figures hinges on how quickly the state office administering the election can process returned ballots.

The steps of “collecting these data are a real challenge, especially if the state doesn’t have a centralized reporting system,” McDonald said. He estimates a third of states don't have a centralized system that makes detailed voting data publicly available.

So while the numbers above are just a snapshot of some of the returned ballots so far, they form a definite baseline of how many people have voted and where.

Do early voters know more, or less?

Across the country, widespread early voting means millions of votes are cast before the entirety of the campaign plays out. In North Carolina, a battleground state with some of the best voting data, we can see a rough estimate of how many voters made a choice before certain revelations in the 2016 campaign.

Early voting began Thursday, so the charts below account only for absentee ballots received through the day of the debate, Oct. 19.

EARLY VOTING BALLOTS PROCESSED

IN NORTH CAROLINA

Oct. 1

13,858

Early ballots

processed

Sept. 11

Oct. 19

New York Times report on Trump’s 1995 tax returns shows he reported a $900 million loss.

Oct. 7

24,173

Sept. 11

Oct. 19

Leaked “Access Hollywood” tape shows Trump making lewd remarks; WikiLeaks emails show excerpts from Clinton’s Wall Street speeches.

 

Oct. 19

54,457

Sept. 11

Oct. 19

The day of the final presidential debate, where Trump said he would keep the nation “in suspense” about his acceptance of election results.

EARLY VOTING BALLOTS PROCESSED IN NORTH CAROLINA

Oct. 1

Oct. 7

Oct. 19

13,858

24,173

54,457

Early ballots

processed

Sept. 11

Sept. 11

Sept. 11

Oct. 19

Oct. 19

Oct. 19

Leaked “Access Hollywood” tape shows Trump making lewd remarks; WikiLeaks emails show excerpts from Clinton’s Wall Street speeches.

 

New York Times report on Trump’s 1995 tax returns shows he reported a $900 million loss.

The day of the final presidential debate, where Trump said he would keep the nation “in suspense” about his acceptance of election results.

EARLY VOTING BALLOTS PROCESSED IN NORTH CAROLINA

Oct. 1

Oct. 7

Oct. 19

13,858

24,173

54,457

Early ballots

processed

Sept. 11

Sept. 11

Sept. 11

Oct. 19

Oct. 19

Oct. 19

New York Times report on Trump’s 1995 tax returns shows he reported a $900 million loss.

The day of the final presidential debate, where Trump said he would keep the nation “in suspense” about his acceptance of election results.

Leaked “Access Hollywood” tape shows Trump making lewd remarks; WikiLeaks emails show excerpts from Clinton’s Wall Street speeches.

 

But does that mean those were uninformed voters? Not according to McDonald.

Data on the earliest of early voters shows they are older and have a strong history of voting. This indicates to McDonald that they are high-information voters and made up their mind about a candidate long before.

Other research has suggested that late breaking information can change the outcome of an election.

PERCENT OF VOTES CAST EARLY

2012

30%

33%

20

10

1996

11%

0

1996

2004

2012

Source: Census Bureau

But McDonald argues that the rise of early voting has encouraged campaigns to share information earlier, resulting in a more informed, less impulsive voter, he said.

Rather than spring an October surprise days before the election, campaigns tend to drop negative opposition research — a story about a candidate’s treatment of a former Miss Universe, for instance — much earlier so that more voters hear about it.

“You can’t hold the negative information too long, because you might miss the window of the persuadables who might be voting,” McDonald said.

How many vote early in each state

A third of all voters cast their ballots before Election Day in 2012. In some states, especially in the West, that percentage was much higher.

That's because over the last 30 years, Western states have changed their voting laws to accommodate more early voting methods. In three — Oregon, Washington and Colorado — all voters will get ballots by mail in 2016 (though Colorado will still offer in-person polling places). Many Northeastern states had little advance voting because they require a reason, such as military service or being unable to visit your polling place on Election Day.

PERCENT OF BALLOTS

CAST EARLY IN 2012

Predicted

Safe

Clinton

The Fix’s

Forecast

Trump

(For 2016

election)

Toss-up

WEST

Ore.*

100

Wash.*

100

Colo.

81.4

Nev.

69.5

Ariz.

65.9

N.M.

59.2

Hawaii

56.5

Calif.

51.9

46.2

Mont.

41.7

Utah

27.2

Wyo.

Alaska

26.8

4.2

Idaho

*All voting by mail in 2012.

MIDWEST

Iowa

43.7

N.D.

42.1

Ohio

33.4

Kan.

32.1

Neb.

26.4

Mich.

26.3

S.D.

25.1

Ill.

23.4

Wisc.

22.7

Ind.

22.5

Mo.

10.2

Minn.

9.1

SOUTH

Tex.

64.8

N.C.

61.7

59.8

Tenn.

Fla.

56.5

Ga.

49.2

Ark.

46.6

24.4

W. Va.

D.C.

23.4

Md.

21.5

S.C.

20.0

La.

18.0

Okla.

13.2

11.6

Va.

Miss.

8.3

Ky.

5.7

Del.

5.0

Ala.

4.2

NORTHEAST

Maine

26.5

Vt.

25.7

N.H.

9.6

Conn.

9.5

Mass.

8.4

N.J.

8.0

R.I.

5.9

N.Y.

5.5

Pa.

4.6

Predicted

Safe

Clinton

The Fix’s

Forecast

PERCENT OF BALLOTS

CAST EARLY IN 2012

Trump

(For 2016

election)

Toss-up

WEST

SOUTH

Ore.*

100

Tex.

64.8

Wash.*

100

N.C.

61.7

Colo.

81.4

59.8

Tenn.

Nev.

69.5

Fla.

56.5

Ariz.

65.9

Ga.

49.2

N.M.

59.2

Ark.

46.6

Hawaii

24.4

56.5

W. Va.

Calif.

51.9

D.C.

23.4

46.2

Mont.

Md.

21.5

41.7

Utah

S.C.

20.0

27.2

Wyo.

La.

18.0

Alaska

26.8

Okla.

13.2

4.2

Idaho

11.6

Va.

*All voting by mail in 2012.

Miss.

8.3

Ky.

5.7

MIDWEST

Del.

5.0

Iowa

43.7

Ala.

4.2

N.D.

42.1

Ohio

33.4

NORTHEAST

Maine

Kan.

26.5

32.1

Neb.

Vt.

26.4

25.7

N.H.

Mich.

9.6

26.3

Conn.

S.D.

9.5

25.1

Mass.

Ill.

8.4

23.4

Wisc.

N.J.

22.7

8.0

Ind.

R.I.

5.9

22.5

Mo.

N.Y.

10.2

5.5

Minn.

Pa.

4.6

9.1

Predicted

Safe

Clinton

The Fix’s

Forecast

PERCENT OF BALLOTS

CAST EARLY IN 2012

Trump

(For 2016

election)

Toss-up

WEST

MIDWEST

SOUTH

NORTHEAST

Maine

Ore.*

100

26.5

Iowa

43.7

Tex.

64.8

Vt.

N.D.

Wash.*

100

25.7

N.C.

42.1

61.7

N.H.

Ohio

9.6

Colo.

59.8

81.4

Tenn.

33.4

Conn.

Kan.

Fla.

Nev.

69.5

56.5

9.5

32.1

Mass.

Neb.

Ga.

26.4

8.4

Ariz.

49.2

65.9

N.J.

Mich.

N.M.

Ark.

8.0

59.2

26.3

46.6

R.I.

S.D.

24.4

5.9

W. Va.

Hawaii

56.5

25.1

N.Y.

Ill.

Calif.

D.C.

51.9

5.5

23.4

23.4

Wisc.

Pa.

Md.

22.7

4.6

46.2

Mont.

21.5

Ind.

41.7

Utah

S.C.

22.5

20.0

Mo.

27.2

Wyo.

La.

10.2

18.0

Minn.

Alaska

26.8

Okla.

9.1

13.2

4.2

11.6

Va.

Idaho

Miss.

*All voting by mail in 2012.

8.3

Ky.

5.7

Del.

5.0

Ala.

4.2

What’s next

Four years ago, 2.8 million North Carolina voters cast their ballot in the weeks leading up to Election Day. That amounts to 62 percent of the state’s 2012 electorate.

[ In several key states, the early vote has shifted heavily to the Democrats since 2012]

The pace at which the votes are cast will skyrocket in the coming days.

ADVANCE VOTING TOTALS:

2016 VS. 2012

60% of all votes cast

40

20

Start of in-person

early voting

2016

2012

0

Days until Election Day: 19

0

Note: Additional absentee votes

were accepted after Election Day.

ADVANCE VOTING TOTALS: 2016 VS. 2012

60% of all votes cast

40

20

Start of in-person

early voting

2016

2012

0

Days before Election Day: 19

0

Note: Additional absentee votes were accepted after Election Day.

In all, 37 states and the District of Columbia offer some form of early or by-mail voting, and while the number of votes cast before the final debate was only about 2 percent of all the votes in 2012, that figure has already begun to rise. Since the debate it has risen to 9.3 percent, or 4.3 million votes.

[ How to vote in your state]

In all likelihood, a third of voters will vote before Nov. 8. As that date nears, more and more persuadable voters will make their decision at a time when Hillary Clinton commands a healthy lead in the polls and pushes her campaign into traditionally red states.

This presents an urgent issue for Donald Trump as he tries to chart a come-from-behind victory. Changing minds before Election Day is already a tough task, but the effort won’t do much good if those voters already donned their ‘I Voted’ sticker weeks ago.

Kevin Schaul and Kim Soffen contributed to this report.

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