Early voter turnout shows very strong interest in 2018 elections

While both parties debate which side has the edge so far in early voting for the November elections, there is not much of a debate on what's going on in a number of states, as voters are shattering records for turnout before Election Day, signifying intense interest even in states that might not play a big role in determining which party controls the U.S. House and Senate in 2019.

Already, at least seven states have exceeded the number of early votes cast before Election Day in 2014 - and there is still time for more to surpass the turnout from the last mid-term election, as elections experts like Michael McDonald of the University of Florida say the evidence is clear that voters are very engaged.

Figures show that Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, Nevada, Indiana, Minnesota and Delaware have already blown past their total early vote for 2014 - and there is more than a week to go until Election Day.

But while turnout in the mid-term elections is up, there is a great debate over which party is going to benefit from a higher turnout in 2018.

Here's just a few of the examples from recent days:

1. North Carolina. President Donald Trump held a rally in Charlotte on Friday night to help bolster the election chances of several Republicans running for Congress. The interesting thing to note about North Carolina is that the races for the U.S. House are the biggest ticket on the ballot. There is no Senate race. There is no race for Governor. Usually, races only for the Congress would not drive a big turnout statewide. But in North Carolina this year, the early voting numbers are closer to a Presidential election than a mid-term. Note the big jump in Democratic votes on one Sunday the graphic below - that could be a 'Souls to the Polls' kind of impact. But also note that Republicans are growing closer in recent days to Democratic turnout levels.

2. Maryland. Maryland really isn't even on the radar as an important mid-term state in the tussle for control of the U.S. Congress, or for any other reason - but like other states, the evidence is that people are turning out to vote. In Maryland, incumbent Gov. Larry Hogan (R) is heavily favored to win re-election, even though it is a fairly Blue state. There are no signs that any seats will change hands in the state's Congressional delegation. But people are turning out, in large numbers. On Sunday, I saw that turnout in person, while I was waiting for one of my kids to play a soccer game in the D.C. suburbs. There was an early voting station, and it was a beehive of activity, with a constant stream of cars going in and out. Where this was happening is a heavily Democratic county where Republicans have little of a footprint. And yet, the voters were showing up in what seemed to be very substantial numbers.

3. Texas. Much of the focus on the elections in Texas has been the U.S. Senate race between Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX). O'Rourke's House seat is centered on El Paso, and there is evidence from his home turf of not only a big turnout, but a dramatic increase in younger people voting, and people who did not vote in the 2014 mid-term elections. This is actually a recipe for success for Democrats, but is this just happening in O'Rourke's home town, or all across the map? Early vote expert McDonald says the 30 largest counties in Texas have already almost equaled the entire 2014 early vote in the Lone Star State. And there's still over a week to go until Election Day.

4. Minnesota. If you are just tuning in to the specifics of the 2018 race, you might be surprised at the importance of Minnesota - but there are a series of key U.S. House races, along with two U.S. Senate seats up in the election. The Minnesota Secretary of State reported this week that total early voting has already surpassed that from 2016 - which was a higher turnout Presidential election year. One reason that the early vote is up is obviously interest - but it's also because laws have changed in that state to make it easier to vote before Election Day.

5. Georgia. As of Sunday, over 1.1 million people had voted early in Georgia. At the same point in the 2014 mid-term elections, that total was slightly over 400,000. The evidence of that turnout was obvious over the weekend, as voters sent me pictures showing lengthy lines in a number of places just outside of Atlanta. One startling statistic from Georgia is that almost one-third of the early voters did not vote in the 2014 election at all - that means very large numbers of new people getting out and voting, a theme we have seen in other states as well. Of those who did not vote in 2014 - but have already cast a ballot - a majority are women, and most are non-white. This may be one reason why President Trump is expected in Georgia before Election Day. You can find some of the latest Georgia numbers at georgiavotes.com.

6. Tennessee. With a competitive race for U.S. Senate, a race for Governor, and Congressional contests, there is a lot of early vote activity in the Volunteer State, as Tennessee is one of those states which has already surpassed 2014 early voting totals. Tennessee does not break down the early vote by party, so it's not easy to know who benefits from all of this activity - but the highest vote totals are coming from Shelby County, which is Memphis. It is yet another piece of evidence showing that Americans are getting to the polls in above average numbers in 2018.

7. Indiana. Another state which is surpassing vote totals from 2014 is Indiana, as a high profile U.S. Senate race is clearly spurring overall interest in the 2018 mid-term election ballot. Vice President Pence has made several stops in his home state, and President Trump spoke there on Saturday as well, all an effort to try to unseat Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), a more moderate Democrat who faces a challenge from Republican Mike Braun. One notable item is that no U.S. House races from Indiana are really on the radar this year, in terms of being flipped from one party to the other. And yet, the early turnout is still up noticeably.

8. Nevada. Nevada on Friday became the fifth state to exceed their total mid-term early vote in 2014 - and there is still another week to go in terms of early voting in the Silver State. Nevada has a full slate of competitive races for Governor, U.S. Senate. and the U.S. House, so there is no shortage of reasons for voters to get to the polls early. The big thing to look for here is how big of an edge Democrats are building in the area around Las Vegas - Clark County - and how well Republicans are doing in the rest of the state, especially Washoe County around Reno. While Democrats have an edge in Clark County, there is debate as to whether it's at the levels that many believe they need in order to win a close statewide race. And there is some question about the age of those voting in Nevada as well, and how that will impact the final outcome. And what's true for Nevada on independent voters - and how they break - will be important for other House and Senate races as well.

9. Florida. With the Panhandle battered by Hurricane Michael, Florida elections officials have had to struggle to make sure things are fully ready for Election Day in certain counties west of the state capital of Tallahassee. So far, Republicans seem to be turning out at a larger number of voters, even as polls consistently show an edge for Democrats in the two biggest statewide races, for Governor and U.S. Senate. The big unknown question about early voting that always gnaws at you is when one party is voting in larger numbers - does that really mean they will keep that lead on Election Day? We will know in another nine days. President Trump is set to make two stops in Florida over the last week of the campaign, on Wednesday in Fort Myers, and Saturday in Pensacola.

10. What impact will the President have? Starting Wednesday, President Trump will basically be on the road until Election Day. Will it spur any big extra amount of turnout for Republicans? Or could it have the opposite impact in some places, and drive more Democrats to the polls? Remember my favorite way to evaluate this time of year - the schedule tells a story. When you see where the President is going, think about several things - what state, what races, what impact? One thing is for sure, we are heading into record territory for early voting in the U.S. this mid-term election.

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