"Unprecedented": 25 Percent of Voters in SB County Already Cast Ballots - Two Weeks Before Election
Updated: Oct 20
Amid record-shattering early voting across California and the nation, one-fourth of Santa Barbara County's registered voters already have returned their mail-in ballots, an analysis of statewide data shows.
"It's crazy high," Paul Mitchell of Sacramento-based, bipartisan Political Data, Inc. said of SB County's torrent of early voting. "The fact that one-quarter of people have voted, more than two weeks before the election, is unprecedented."
The local rush to vote reflects what is happening across the U.S., amid a huge increase in the use of mail-in ballots because of the pandemic -- and a raging partisan battle ignited by Donald Trump's concocted provocations about the legitimacy of the election.
More than 29 million people have voted nationally as of Monday morning -- equivalent to 21.4 of the total electorate in 2016 -- according to the U.S. Elections Project, a turnout-tracking data base run by political scientists at the University of Florida.
In California, more than three million early ballots have been submitted -- about one-fifth of the state's overall electorate four years ago -- and "three times the number returned in 2016," Mitchell said.
Lay of the land. Even amid this broad political landscape, however, the number of early voters in SB county is unusually high -- representing nearly one-third of the county's turnout in 2016.
Santa Barbara's rush of early voting, while matched by San Luis Obispo County's 27 percent, is far greater than 11 percent in Los Angeles County, 18 percent in Ventura County and 19 percent in San Francisco, for example; nonetheless early returns for the latter trio of counties also are at historic highs.
As a political matter, the balloting to date in Santa Barbara is dominated by Democrats, older and white voters, all in greater portion than their numbers among the overall electorate:
Democrats represent 47 percent of eligible voters in the county -- but 55 percent of those who already have cast ballots; Republicans and No Party Preference independents -- who represent 25 percent and 28 percent of the countywide electorate respectively - so far are voting in smaller portions - 23 percent for the GOP and 22 percent for independents.
Voters 65 and over have submitted 45 percent of the early ballots -- although they are only 27 percent of the SB electorate; younger voters, 18-34, represent the largest age cohort of the electorate -- 29 percent -- but have submitted just 15 percent of the ballots.
White voters - representing two-thirds of the electorate - have sent in 77 percent of the ballots to date, while Latinos -- 28 percent of those registered -- have submitted 19 percent of the ballots, with Asians, at four percent, and Blacks, about one-half percent, voting roughly in proportion to their share on the total voter roll.
The big picture. To a large extent, Santa Barbara mirrors what is happening nationally.
About 53 percent of the early votes in the U.S. have been cast by Democrats, and 36 percent by Republicans, according to analysis by the data firm TargetSmart. The company also found that 70 percent of the ballots have been cast by voters 50 and older. From an NPR report on the data:
Hundreds of thousands more young people have voted at this point in October, compared with the 2016 election, but they still make up a lower share of the overall total than they did then.
Notably, African American voters make up a larger share of early voters than in 2016. More than six times as many African American voters have voted early this year than had at the same point in the last presidential election, according to TargetSmart.
The numbers suggest that there is considerable energy and enthusiasm among anti-Trump voters. Traditionally, early return ballots favor Republicans and conservatives, but it appears that Trump's constant attacks on mail ballots may be leading his supporters to wait to vote in person until Election Day.
One key unanswered question is whether the avalanche of early voting is a harbinger of an expanded total turnout -- or whether it merely represents the urgency and anxiety of those who always vote to ensure their ballot is counted. Amid the uncertainties of the coronavirus, Trump repeatedly has implied threats to try to cut off vote counts in states that have large number of ballots arriving on or after Nov. 3, aided by the Department of Justice, not to mention the specter right-wing and white supremacist gangs.
Mitchell said most of the ballots submitted so far have come from traditionally reliable voters, comparing the rush to a restaurant that is crowded with those who made reservations: "we have to wait and see if there are walk-in customers too," he said, completing the metaphor.
Fun with numbers. Here is a look at the early voting data from some key races in and around Santa Barbara County.
Voters in the Santa Barbara Unified School District are returning early ballots at an even faster rate than the county as a whole, and Democrats have cast nearly two-thirds of them - greater than their share of the electorate - while Republicans, who represent 18 percent of overall voters, have cast only 16 percent of those received to date.
The 24th Congressional District race, between Rep. Salud Carbajal and Republican challenger Andy Caldwell, takes in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. The Democratic incumbent holds a 43-to-30 percent partisan advantage in registration, and so far is expanding that edge, as Democrats have returned 52 percent of all the ballots to date, while Republicans have mailed in only 26 percent.
Republican Charles Cole finished first in a field crowded with Democrats in the March 3 primary in the open 37th Assembly District, but second-place finisher Steve Bennett, a Democratic member of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, has a huge 49-to-23 percent partisan registration advantage that is even bigger among ballots returned to date, which are 60 percent Democratic and 19 percent Republican.
A look at the numbers in the campaign to replace the termed-out Hannah Beth-Jackson in the 19th state Senate District shows why Democratic Assemblymember Monique Limon is heavily favored over Republican businessman Gary Michaels: in partisan registration, Democrats holdna 47-to-25 percent advantage over Republicans, a gap that is currently expanded to 56-to-22 percent in early voting.
P.S. CNN has a very good analysis examining what the huge early voting numbers nationwide mean, which is here.
Images: Paul Mitchell (LinkedIn); All charts from Political Data Inc.