The data proves the partisan reason for GOP attempts to limit early voting

March 8, 2019 12:15 pm

An Arizona voter carries her ballot to a polling place to vote in the 2018 primary election in Phoenix. Photo by Ralph Freso | Getty Images

Just in case it wasn’t clear enough that the motivations for Republican lawmakers pushing for sweeping changes to early voting and ballot tabulation in the wake of last year’s Democratic come-from-behind wins are purely political, last week’s analysis of ballot-counting trends sheds some light on the issue.

The analysis by my colleague, Jeremy Duda, puts the lie to the GOP claims that bills to curb early voting, including one that would have barred people from dropping off early ballots at polling places on Election Day, are needed to protect the integrity of the elections. The notion that the surge of votes for Democratic candidates post-Election Day was a sign of something nefarious was always ridiculous on its face to seasoned election-watchers, but it was anecdotal.

Now we have the data to demonstrate just how disingenuous the arguments that something hinky happened are.

To test the assertion from many Republicans (some more credible than others) that 2018 represented a black mark on the state’s elections because a handful of Democrats went from election night losers to final canvass winners, Duda set about gathering the ballot counts that were reported at the end of every election night for the past decade. Some figures came from elections officials, some from media reports. Then, just a little bit of math revealed how the ballot counting in the following two weeks – the typical time it takes to count all the ballots – shifted the elections.

What the numbers proved was what campaign consultants say they’ve known for years: The closer a vote is cast to Election Day, the more likely it will be for the Democratic candidate. A large chunk of those ballots are what are commonly referred to as “late earlies” – early ballots that voters dropped off at a polling place instead of returning them in the mail.

Since 2010, there have been 22 statewide races. Exactly one Democrat – Ann Kirkpatrick for the U.S. Senate in 2016 – didn’t gain ground on her Republican opponent in the post-Election Day counting.

The only significant difference between Democratic performance in 2018 and prior years was that there were tight races when vote-counting ended on Election Day, so when Democrats made gains, they captured the lead.

If campaign consultants know about this trend, you can bet that their legislative clients do, as well.

But I’m sure it’s purely coincidental that Republicans are suddenly agitating about needing to protect the integrity of the elections. Surely, they aren’t more concerned about protecting the electoral power they have historically held in Arizona.

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications. He has also served as the editor and executive director of the Arizona Center for Investigative Reporting.