Where The Early Vote Stands On Election Day

By Pat Rynard
November 8, 2016

Voters streamed into auditor’s offices across Iowa on Monday, getting their vote in one day before Election Day arrived. Long lines were seen in Polk, Black Hawk, Johnson, Linn and Scott counties. Voters who still had their absentee ballots hopefully brought them into auditor’s offices or planned on taking them to the polls – sending them in at this point means they won’t arrive on time.

The Secretary of State’s office released their usual early vote report Monday afternoon. In 2012 they also gave an update on Election Day, so it’s possible we get one more bit of information on the all-important early vote statistics.

Here’s where we’re at now, compared to this point in 2012:

Voted Now Voted Then  Diff
Dem 260,222 281,966 92%
GOP 218,204 215,439 101%
NP 149,816 174,850 86%

Barack Obama won Iowa in 2012 by 90,000 votes. Democrats lead in the early vote this year by 42,018. They led in 2012 at this point by 66,527. Considering the early vote made up 43% of the vote in 2012, you can see how Hillary Clinton can still pull off a win in Iowa with these numbers, it would just be very, very close. And from the numbers that Starting Line has seen, Democrats’ early voters are much more likely to be sporadic-voting people (as in, they don’t always turn out) than the Republican early voters.

But the other important thing to consider is the No Party voters. These broke well for Democrats in 2012 in the early vote (Obama won the early vote registration comparison – Democrats to Republicans – by about 66,000, but he won the actual early vote by nearly 90,000. So clearly the No Party voters favored him as well). So to have them only at 86% could be concerning for Democrats.

However, it’s not all great news for Republicans. The Iowa GOP constantly touted their increased focus on the early vote this year. And yet in a cycle where Iowa is becoming more red thanks to Donald Trump on the ballot, they’ve only increased their early vote total by 3,000. Yes, the Democratic advantage has been reduced by about 24,000, and that’s not nothing. But I think they would like to see an even bigger advantage. Republicans may have had a great plan and their field staffers may have done their best, but this is what happens when the Trump campaign doesn’t invest early on to the ground game.

The final result may be determined by how independent voters break, and recent polling doesn’t show that going too well for Democrats.

Another interesting number to look at is the return rates. Democratic insiders played off the very poor early numbers in September by insisting it was all part of a strategy designed at hitting voters at exactly the right time. Collect a bunch of absentee ballot requests early and you risk the voters forgetting they asked for one, making it harder to get those ballots turned in. It seems like that strategy worked out, at least in the return rates.

Reqested Returned Return %
Dem 283,686 260,222 92%
GOP 233,674 218,204 93%
NP 165,623 149,816 90%

For comparison’s sake, at this point in 2012 Democrats had a return rate of 90%, Republicans were at 94% and No Party’s at 88%. So both Democrats and No Party returns are better. Even an increase in the return rate by two points is no small matter. 2% of this year’s Democratic numbers is 5,674 votes.

The other big advantage of a better return rate is that your volunteers can focus more on getting people out on Election Day, instead of having to chase down absentee ballots that never come in.

Will the different strategy all even out in the end? Who the hell knows. But here’s the bottom line: Iowa Democrats’ ground game has put Hillary Clinton in a position to win on Election Day. Not by the same margin that Barack Obama did in 2012, not by any means. Swing voters in Eastern Iowa moving to the right may decide the day, but at least there’s a decent chance for a Clinton victory, despite the dour polls.

Now let’s take one last look at the legislative districts. Here’s how early voting finished in the senate districts:

District Senator/Rep Ds Voted Rs Voted Diff
SD 08 Gronstal/Dawson 4132 3460 672
SD 26 Wilhelm/Brown 4415 4096 319
SD 28 Breitbach/Heikes 4751 5129 -378
SD 30 Danielson/Sadler 6023 4734 1289
SD 32 Schoenjahn/Johnson 4229 3887 342
SD 34 Mathis/Gadehla 5456 4059 1397
SD 36 Sodders/Edler 4556 4075 481
SD 42 Taylor/Graber 5237 4086 1151
SD 46 Brase/Lofgren 5133 4730 403
SD 48 Zumbach/Peterson 3579 3767 -188

Mathis and Danielson maintain their huge, likely insurmountable lead in voting in their districts. Gronstal still leads by a good amount in his, while the other competitive districts are likely too close for comfort.

Tons of volunteer efforts have been sent into the swing legislative districts for the final push. Here’s how much the Democratic early vote advantage changed in each district from Friday to today:

District Senator/Rep Diff Change
SD 08 Gronstal/Dawson -20
SD 26 Wilhelm/Brown -55
SD 28 Breitbach/Heikes -352
SD 30 Danielson/Sadler -100
SD 32 Schoenjahn/Johnson -224
SD 34 Mathis/Gadehla 44
SD 36 Sodders/Edler 13
SD 42 Taylor/Graber -40
SD 46 Brase/Lofgren -43
SD 48 Zumbach/Peterson -319

Republicans must have collected a lot of ballots in Schoenjahn’s district, causing Schoenjahn to really backslide on his early vote advantage, likely adding to the fears that this is one Democrats will lose tonight. But Democrats mostly held steady in many of their other key districts, and even picked up a few more in Sodders’ race.

Now to the House, where things are a little more interesting:

District Senator/Rep Ds Voted Rs Voted Diff
HD 26 Ourth/Snodgrass 3343 2801 542
HD 37 Landon/Phillips 2894 2936 -42
HD 38 Koester/Matson 2723 2169 554
HD 39 Highfill/Morris 3070 3080 -10
HD 42 Cownie/Celsi 3302 2432 870
HD 43 Hagenow/Konfrst 3521 2382 1139
HD 51 Bloomingdale/Hejhal 1844 1995 -151
HD 55 Bergan/Ritter 2966 2717 249
HD 56 Ruff/Hager 1785 2412 -627
HD 57 Stetcher/Lundgren 3307 2345 962
HD 58 McKean/Kean 2643 1823 820
HD 60 Rogers/Kroeger 3049 2749 300
HD 68 Rizer/Donahue 2900 1975 925
HD 88 Kerr/Drew 2029 2050 -21
HD 91 Carlson/Weise 2515 2547 -32
HD 92 Paustian/Krumweide 2618 2183 435
HD 95 Zumbach/Whitehead 1928 1511 417

Konfrst maintains her huge early vote lead – it’s increasingly likely that Majority Leader Hagenow’s time in the Iowa House comes to an end tonight. The numbers are looking particularly good for Donahue and Kean as well, while Celsi should get a boost from early voting Democrats as well.

For the Republican pick-up districts, Ruff will be a far easier target than the Stetcher/Dunkel open seat in rural Dubuque. Ruff won in 2012 despite being down in the early vote registration numbers, but a 627 disadvantage may be too much to overcome. Northeast Iowa is very swingy, and it’s not entirely clear which way it’s going with Trump, but this corner of Iowa isn’t looking good for Democrats this year.

Here’s how things changed since Friday:

District Senator/Rep Diff Change
HD 26 Ourth/Snodgrass -53
HD 37 Landon/Phillips -299
HD 38 Koester/Matson -51
HD 39 Highfill/Morris -193
HD 42 Cownie/Celsi 91
HD 43 Hagenow/Konfrst 52
HD 51 Bloomingdale/Hejhal -61
HD 55 Bergan/Ritter -109
HD 56 Ruff/Hager -243
HD 57 Dunkel/Stetcher 62
HD 58 McKean/Kean 100
HD 60 Rogers/Kroeger -119
HD 68 Rizer/Donahue 98
HD 88 Kerr/Drew -120
HD 91 Carlson/Weise -29
HD 92 Paustian/Krumweide -14
HD 95 Zumbach/Whitehead -102

Republicans really boosted their numbers in their redder suburban districts, like Ankeny and Johnston. But in the more swing suburban areas, like Marion and West Des Moines, Democrats built upon their already-solid leads, no easy task in the final days.

Again, Republicans must have been busy in the Northeast corner of Iowa, where they saw big gains in both House districts there. Ryan Drew also lost some ground in his bid for a surprise upset win in Southeast Iowa – had there been enough funds to go around and some extra staff, you might have seen a Democratic ground game build a bigger early vote lead here.

If there’s another early vote update from the Secretary of State, I’ll update this post later in the day. Otherwise, make sure to tune into WOI/ABC 5 tonight – I’ll be giving analysis on the Statehouse races from 9:45 to 10:45.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 11/8/16

  • Pat Rynard

    Pat Rynard founded Iowa Starting Line in 2015. He is now Courier Newsroom's National Political Editor, where he oversees political reporters across the country. He still keeps a close eye on Iowa politics, his dog's name is Frank, and football season is his favorite time of year.

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