Woodbury County is voting their butts off.

New early vote data from Friday shows a big jump in absentee ballot requests in several counties. The Northwest Iowa county anchored by Sioux City saw a particularly large increase, bringing them to the fourth-most in the state and nearly surpassing Johnson County. (See our earlier post from last week if you want to compare – download our new spreadsheet here.)

Here’s the top 10 counties ranked by the raw number of absentee ballots after the second week of early voting:

 D Requested
Polk  5,348
Dubuque  1,908
Johnson  1,447
Woodbury  1,404
Linn  1,273
Scott  699
Wapello  614
Black Hawk  527
Story  517
Lee  434

But what’s more impressive is comparing that number to how many total votes were cast in the 2006 Democratic gubernatorial primary, the last time we had a major, high-spending, statewide primary. On that measure, Woodbury County has requested so many ballots that it equals 2/3 of the total vote cast in 2006 (that’s early vote and election day). Here’s the counties ranked by that percentage:

 D Requested  2006 D Vote % 2006 D Vote
Woodbury  1,404  2,143 66%
Jefferson  239  788 30%
Poweshiek  277  1,037 27%
Dubuque  1,908  7,667 25%
Wapello  614  2,935 21%
Polk  5,348  28,271 19%
Lee  434  2,504 17%
Pottawattamie  272  1,577 17%
Henry  95  588 16%
Dallas  339  2,162 16%

Woodbury isn’t just in the lead, they’re more than double the next-closest county. There seems to be a couple reasons for this. For one, local labor unions and key activists have been working the ground game extensively for Nate Boulton. This is also J.D. Scholten territory and where he has a lot of local volunteers to go knocking on doors to drive turnout in his home city.

The other reason for the difference is simply because Woodbury County had pretty low turnout in the 2006 race. The massive increase here shows how much more active the local Democrats have gotten in the time since. But that’s also why I use a couple different ways to measure these early vote numbers. Because sometimes a race for county treasurer or something may drive one county’s turnout in a certain year, which then skews comparisons like this. It also makes Dallas County look better than it actually is, considering their population has grown so much in that timeframe. So, here’s the chart sorted by the early vote as a percent of the total registered Democrats in each county:

 D Requested D Registered % Registered
Woodbury  1,404 17,068 8.2%
Wapello  614 7,781 7.9%
Dubuque  1,908 24,670 7.7%
Poweshiek  277 3,941 7.0%
Jefferson  239 3,801 6.3%
Polk  5,348 106,940 5.0%
Lee  434 8,726 5.0%
Davis  78 1,604 4.9%
Fremont  43 969 4.4%
Adair  35 922 3.8%

Woodbury still tops the pack, though it’s not a ridiculous 66% number of something. Regardless, this has important consequences for the 4th District race. Scholten’s home county’s early votes are running nearly three-to-one over Story County, the liberal base of Steve King’s district. Story County had 4,959 votes in the 2006 Democratic primary compared to Woodbury County’s 2,143. Come Election Day, Story County will almost certainly still have a larger overall turnout, but Scholten should be very happy that Woodbury currently accounts for 44% of the entire 4th District early vote requests.

Poweshiek County is also looking very good now with their early vote requests equalling 7% of their registered Democrats and 27% of their 2006 turnout. That seems to be thanks to the county holding a satellite voting location on Grinnell College’s campus before all of the students left for the summer. Cathy Glasson’s campaign has targeted Grinnell and has a lot of support from young voters there, so Poweshiek’s numbers should be very good news for her.

Several rural counties in the 3rd Congressional District are doing well. Fremont, Adair, Union, Adams and Warren counties are all in the top 20 counties for percentage of registered Democrats requesting ballots. We may see who that’s good for when the Des Moines Register puts out their 3rd District poll this afternoon.

Aside from that, most of the other numbers are similar to what we saw last week. Legislative primaries are diving numbers in key spots. Mary Stewart’s Wapello County still has a large lead in early votes to Ed Malloy’s Jefferson County in the SD 41 primary, but Jefferson County has caught up some.

Polk County accounts for 28% of the state’s early vote requests, thanks in part to a supervisor’s race and senate primary. Dubuque County makes up 10%, largely driven by the primary to replace Abby Finkenauer in the Iowa House. Both counties are down in their share of the statewide early vote, but that’s because other counties have started to increase their totals. (If you know of local races that might be driving specific county’s turnouts, leave a comment or send me an email.)

Democrats’ overall early vote requests are looking much better than from last week. Some of that is likely thanks to a statewide absentee request mailer that Fred Hubbell’s campaign sent out. As we explained, 21,277 votes were cast early in the 2016 Democratic U.S. Senate primary. Democratic requests this year are now up to 19,372 with over two weeks to go, so we’re looking like we’ll definitely surpass turnout from 2016. How close it gets to 2006’s 150,000 turnout is still an open question.

A couple places remain disappointingly low. Cerro Gordo County, home to Mason City, has just a mere 62 early vote requests, accounting for less than 1% of their registered Democrats and only 3% of their 2006 primary turnout. That puts them near the bottom of the state in both rankings. Democratic enthusiasm in Cerro Gordo has seemed to be on the decline for a number of years, and the state party may want to stage an intervention here considering they have some key legislative races in 2018.

Linn and Scott counties aren’t doing much to impress. Linn County has 2.6% of their registered Democrats early voting; Scott has just 2.1%. Jackson County – another legislative target for the general election – has just 1.1% in that measure. And a bunch of non-3rd District rural counties are generally just not seeing a lot of activity.

We’ll take another look at early vote numbers after next week. Of note: May 25 is the last day county auditor’s offices can send out absentee ballots, so make sure to request one before then if you need to.


by Pat Rynard
Posted 5/20/18

2 thoughts on “Several Counties See Early Vote Jumps Before Primary

  1. Thanks for all the excellent work on this story, Pat. In Poweshiek County, the auditor received enough signatures to hold early voting at Grinnell College on last Tuesday, and these votes should count toward absentee ballots. Not all the voters were college students, but they were a significant force in driving for ballot on campus before people leave for summer. Glasson by far the most popular gubernatorial candidate among students at Grinnell College.

  2. Great work here, Pat! Perhaps people(Dems, anyway) are actually waking up to the fact that there is a real choice this year, and that we have really good candidates (up and down the ballot – not always the case). Also that state/county/local elections do make a difference, as well. I almost feel a dinosaur, since so many of Cathy Glasson’s supporters are the “younger generation”, but hey, as long as she speaks to them, more power to her! She speaks to the crowd I hang with.
    Please keep us updated like this, Pat! 😉

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