Most early voting programs didn’t increase the number of people who cast ballots in 2016, they just changed the way people participated, according to examinations of this year’s election results. President-elect Donald Trump’s Nov. 8 victory also put aside long-held notions that pre-Election Day indicators from early-voting data could serve as useful predictors of who would win the election. Election figures in Ohio bear out the lack of relationship between the availability of early voting and overall turnout. Before the 2008 election, Ohio lawmakers for the first time introduced early and no-excuse absentee voting in the state. When President Barack Obama defeated Sen. John McCain that year, 1.72 million Ohioans voted before Election Day. But postelection figures showed that overall turnout increased from 2004 by just 51,000 votes. Fewer Ohioans voted in 2012, and fewer still in 2016, even as early voting numbers rose to 1.86 million in 2012 and 1.88 million in 2016.
Pre-Election Day ballots increased this year even though Ohio limited the early-voting period and added restrictions, such as a prohibition on counties subsidizing prepaid return envelopes on absentee ballots.
“You’re just moving the same amount of votes. You’re moving 30% of them to early voting but it’s not increasing the overall number,” said Mike Dawson, a former Republican political aide in Ohio who operates ohioelectionresults.com. “Early voting is not increasing voter turnout. Voter motivation is what increases voter turnout.”
Much of the pre-Election Day prognostications using available early-voting data pointed to a Hillary Clinton victory, based on the Democratic nominee’s strengths in states such as Florida. There, 70% of ballots were cast before Nov. 8 and the data showed strong turnout in urban counties where Democrats do well.