Wonky Wednesday: Polarization of voting methods in 2021

Welcome back to #wonkywednesday!  Each week I dive into the stats and registration and election data that makes up the electoral landscape of Onondaga County.  I continue to look back at the November General Election as we await new registration and redistricting data that will come in February.  This week in will look at the polarization of voting methods that have happened over the last 3 years. 

Up until 2019 New York was largely an in-person voting state on Election Day.  New York did not have early voting and a rather strict excused based system for absentee.  This meant that well over 90% of the vote for any election was on Election Day.  Absentee voting though showed signs in the last few years of increasing.  In 2016 and 2018, two very high turnout years, we saw a decent increase of absentee voting.  As New Yorkers saw other states’ voters able to cast ballots early many New Yorkers chose to vote by absentee claiming permanent and temporary illness. 

This all changed in 2019 when Early Voting was adopted by the New York state legislature.  For the 2019 General Election was the first time voters in New York could choose to vote on a day other than Election Day.  We saw an immediate polarization in 2019 when it came to this reform.  In Onondaga County Democrats accounted for the overwhelming plurality of Early Votes.  Republicans remained skeptical of this reform and stayed largely in person.  This polarization got worse in 2020 and 2021 as Democrats made up even larger shares of the growing Early Vote contingent.  Absentees remained pretty evenly used in 2019 however that changed in 2020 when the COVID-91 pandemic made the use of mail in ballots easier than ever.  National rhetoric led to under usage of absentee ballots by the GOP both in 2020 and 2021 from what was generally equally used method of voting prior to 2020.

Democrats have been the biggest adopter of Early Voting and increased uses of absentees.  Their increase in percentages and raw numbers for early voting from 2019 to 2021 elections, both local years, has decreased their influence on Election Day.  2020 is an abnormal year with nearly 605 of Democrats choosing to vote in options other than Election Day.  With COVID raging and no vaccine it remains to be seen whether 2020 is just an anomaly or something we may see more of in higher turnout elections. 

It may surprise some to see the GOP also grew its share and raw numbers of Early Voting and absentees from 2019 to 2021.  Their vote share for Election Day dripped 2% points as some voters are starting to resist the national rhetoric.  However they still largely outnumber Democrats in desire to vote on Election Day.  Over 61% of their voters in the presidential year and over 87% in 2021 chose Election Day as their method.  This compares to 40.55% for Democrats in 2020 and 78.55% in 2021.

Non enrolled voters not surprisingly land in the middle of the two parties.  The fluctuations in turnout with non-enrolled voters seem to affect their voting method choice which is not all that surprising.  Though not enrolled in a party most studies show non-enrolled still have ideological leans.  The N/E aligned with Democrats may be adopting their voting method preferences where the ne/s aligned with GOP.  The n/e voting method breakdowns tend to reflect the overall breakdowns more than either party. 

The increased usage of alternative voting methods as well as the increasing polarization of the political party’s feelings towards those methods have created whiplash when reporting results.  This phenomenon is what I call the Blue Blip-Red Mirage-Blue shift.  Early Voting dominated by Democratic voters were always the first results reported at 9pm on Election Night.  This would give Democrats in virtually every race a blip of hope as an initial lead would show up on Election Night.  As results would trickle in from the various Election Day polling places the more GOP friendly Election Day electorate would overcome those leads.  In 2020 this shift was so dramatic because the GOP had a significant advantage on Election Day.  It even led to Syracuse.com jumping the gun calling CNY a Blue Mirage.  Absentee ballots though in 2020 and 2021 were heavily polarized and led to many come from behind victories for Democratic candidates weeks after Election Day when those ballots were counted.

This may now be a thing in the past or at least drastically changed.  In 2022 for the first time Absentee ballot totals will be part of the Election night counts.  This means as reporting starts Early Voting and Absentee totals will start to appear.  So the Blue Blip at the beginning of the night may be larger than before.  Election Night results will come in as the night goes on and when voters go to bed we should have reporting of well over 95% of the ballots cast.  This will likely allow more races to be called on Election Night and give confidence to voters to choose whatever voting method they want.  We will still have affidavit and absentee ballots received in the 48 hour period before Election Day to count after the election but that universe will be small and not as polarized meaning only the closest of races can flip.

That is it for this week.  Next week I will continue looking back at the November election.  I will look at who won the individual races in Onondaga County and whether Democrats or Republicans gained significantly in the local electoral landscape.

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