What the California Recall Means for the Future of Mail-in Voting
The number of ballots cast before the election hints at a significant shift in California.
What the recall means for the future of mail-in voting.
Mail-in ballots for the recall election getting processed in Pomona on Thursday.Credit…Frederic J. Brown/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
By Jill Cowan
Sept. 11, 2021, 1:20 p.m. ET
More than a third of California’s active registered voters had cast their ballots in the recall election by Saturday, several days before polls close.
That hints not only at a fundamental shift in how Californians are casting their ballots, but when they are doing so, said Paul Mitchell, a vice president of Political Data Inc., a Sacramento-based supplier of election data.
“There will come a day where the highest voter turnout is not on Election Day,” he said.
That may not be this election, for which all of the state’s roughly 22 million active registered voters were mailed ballots. But trends suggest that the proportion of ballots cast on Tuesday, the last day of roughly a month of voting, will be much lower than in the past, Mr. Mitchell said.
“If only 15 to 20 percent of people vote on the last Monday to Tuesday, that’s pretty crazy,” he said.
Throughout the campaign, experts have said that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s effort to hang on to his job leading the nation’s most-populous state would hinge on whether California’s enormous Democratic base would show up in significant enough numbers to counteract enthusiasm among Republicans. Polling has consistently shown that approval of Mr. Newsom’s performance has split largely along party lines.
As of Wednesday, the Political Data Inc. election tracker showed that they have so far: Of those who received ballots, 34 percent of registered Democrats and 30 percent of registered Republicans have returned them, meaning that more than twice as many Democratic ballots have been cast.
That, of course, does not include ballots that are in the mail, or those of voters who are waiting to hit the polls in person in the next several days.
But Mr. Mitchell noted that the early votes have also come largely from older voters. Nearly half of voters 65 and older have returned their ballots, compared with 23 percent of voters 35 to 49 and 16 percent of voters 18 to 34.
Historically, he said, early voting and voting by mail were dominated by older, whiter Republicans. But that flipped in 2020 as misinformation about ballot fraud took hold, and the data in this election suggests that the trend of voting early or by mail among older Democrats has continued.
Despite the number of early votes, both campaigns have hewed to a traditional schedule by ramping up in the final week of the election.
“We still want that last closing message,” Mr. Mitchell said. “It’s this romantic idea of a campaign arc that doesn’t exist anymore.”
In this election, he said, the last-ditch efforts could pay off by turning out young people and Latinos whose votes may still be up for grabs.