More than halfway through Maryland’s eight-day early voting period, turnout is more than double what it was during the most recent gubernatorial election — a development Democrats are touting as a good sign for their candidates.
After five days of early voting, about 370,000 Marylanders have cast ballots in the general election — a 135 percent increase from the same time in 2014.
This could be good news for the state’s Democratic party, which is hoping a so-called “blue wave” fueled by outrage over Republican President Donald Trump will sweep Democrat Ben Jealous into the governor’s mansion, help the party pick up key county executive seats and hold on to a supermajority in the state Senate.
But is early voting merely cannibalizing Election Day turnout? That’s a likelihood, given past voting patterns, state elections officials say.
“Since we’ve implemented early voting, we’ve seen the percentage of voters who vote during early voting increase as a percentage of turnout,” said Nikki Baines Charlson, deputy administrator at the State Board of Elections. “That’s been our trend. It’s moving Election Day voters to early voting.”
Here is what we can glean from the early voting data so far:
» High turnout, so far: Elections officials expect 33 percent of Maryland voters to cast ballots during early voting, which would be a record, Charlson said. That means about two-thirds of voters will cast ballots on Election Day. “For Ben Jealous to win, this high turnout has to continue into Election Day,” said Mileah Kromer, director of the Sarah T. Hughes Field Politics Center at Goucher College. “If he can turn out a younger, more diverse electorate, then he has a chance to win.”
» No same-day surge: So far, 923 Democrats have used same-day voter registration to cast ballots. About 270 Republicans have done the same. These are relatively small numbers that do not suggest a large surge of new voters joining the electorate. “If this were a large blue wave, you would expect those numbers to be larger,” said Todd Eberly, an associate professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
» Older voters dominating: The percentage of early voting ballots cast so far by Marylanders from ages 18 to 24 is 3 percent. Older voters have dominated the early voting period so far, suggesting a similar electorate to past elections — and not a radically changed political environment. “The politician who finally figures out how to engage the youth vote will be remembered forever, “ Kromer says. “It’s really hard to get young people to turn out to vote.”
» Light voting in city: The percentage of turnout so far in Baltimore is 6.5 percent. That’s below 2016 levels, but slightly above 2014. The city is a key jurisdiction that Jealous needs to turn out big for him. But the city has few competitive down-ballot races, dampening turnout. On the Eastern Shore, where there’s a competitive race for Congress between Republican Rep. Andy Harris and Democratic challenger Jesse Colvin, turnout has been robust (20.4 percent in Talbot County, 15.3 percent in Queen Anne’s County and 14.4 percent in Kent County). Jurisdictions with competitive races for county executive also have seen better-than-average turnout (13 percent in Howard, 10.4 percent in Baltimore County and 10.3 percent in Anne Arundel). “Jurisdictions with more competitive races seem to be getting more of the early vote,” Eberly said.
» Who knows? The number of Democrats who will cross over to vote for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. So far, 143,741 more Democrats than Republicans have cast ballots. What’s unknown is which candidate they supported. If Democrats “come home” to their party and support Jealous, as his campaign argues they will, he’ll likely win. If more than one-third vote for Hogan — as public polling suggests they will — he’ll likely win. “This is all about crossover,” Eberly said. “It’s about how many Democrats cross over for Hogan. We won’t know that until Election Day.”
Early voting runs through Thursday. Election Day is next Tuesday.