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6 Early Bird Special Convenience Voting in Florida’s 2016 General Election Daniel A. Smith, Dillon Boatner, Caitlin Ostroff, Pedro Otálora, and Laura Uribe In a postelection column entitled “Why Early Voting Was Overhyped,” polling guru Nate Silver of fame reminded readers of the dangers of extrapolating too much from early voting results. Historically , “the relationship between early voting in a state and the final voting totals there has been weak,” Silver warned his minions, “and attempts to make inferences from early voting data have made fools of otherwise smart people.” To be sure, many pundits looked like dupes following the 2016 general election, in part because patterns of early voting in battleground states like Florida appeared to give Hillary Clinton a commanding lead over Donald Trump heading into Election Day. But as Silver rightly pointed out in his postmortem, “early voting data can be easy to misinterpret ” (Silver 2017). Apparently, such a faux pas was committed during MSNBC’s Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, which aired a week before Election Day. Touting a poll of Floridians that he conducted with the College of William & Mary, Tom Bonier, the CEO of TargetSmart, claimed that Clinton was winning 28 percent of Republicans who had cast their ballots ahead of Election Day. Drawing on official data reported by the Division of Elections , the list-based survey was designed to elicit the vote choice of voters who had voted an in-person ballot at an early voting location or who had Early Bird Special: Convenience Voting in Florida’s 2016 General Election · 135 mailed in their ballots. “A lot of the vote in Florida has already been cast,” Bonier (2016) informed O’Donnell, arguing that many of the 3.6 million votes in the bank were going to Clinton. Heading into Election Day, based on the results of the poll, Bonier projected a big win for Clinton, as a sizable number of “Never Trump” Republicans who had already voted early were ostensibly supporting Clinton. In the end, of course, the Republican upstart pulled away in the Sunshine State, as Trump was buoyed by a surge of Election Day supporters. Notwithstanding Trump’s Election Day surge in Florida, across the country an ever-greater share of votes are being cast prior to Election Day. Voters clearly appreciate the ease of convenience voting. In the 2016 general election, over two-thirds of the 9.6 million Floridians who voted cast their ballots prior to November 8. Trying to suss out final election results from early votes, of course, can be perilous—one can easily succumb to the temptation of reading too much into the early voting tea leaves. But convenience voting is here to stay, and with more than two-thirds of ballots being cast early, advanced voting cannot be ignored. As we argue here, though, much is still to be learned by delving into the evolving patterns of early in-person (EIP) and vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots in the Sunshine State. This chapter examines convenience voting in Florida. After a brief overview of convenience voting, we examine the use of EIP voting and VBM over time, taking particular note of the explosion of EIP voting among racial and ethnic minorities. We also assess if convenience voting might have a substitution effect—that is, frontloading votes by those who would otherwise cast ballots on Election Day. Then we evaluate whether the expansion (or contraction) of the days, hours, and locations of EIP voting by county Supervisors of Elections (SOEs) is related to an increase or decrease of EIP voting by black, Hispanic, and white voters. Finally, we examine patterns across counties of voters mailing in their ballots, noting the disparate rates of VBM voting across Florida’s sixty-seven counties. The Rise of ConvenienceVoting Often referred to as convenience voting, there are two distinct methods of casting ballots prior to Election Day, with both modes rising in popularity with voters (Gronke 2012). In more than three dozen states, including Florida, voters are permitted to cast ballots in person at early voting 136 · Daniel A. Smith, Dillon Boatner, Caitlin Ostroff, Pedro Otálora, and Laura Uribe locations in the county in which they are registered to vote. Alternatively, voters in two dozen states, again including Florida registrants, may request and then return by mail their ballot, no-excuse required (NCSL 2017). “In reality,” Michael McDonald told a Los Angeles Times reporter in 2014, “the days of an actual election ‘day’ are long...


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