Princeton Election Consortium

Innovations in democracy since 2004

Outcome: Biden 306 EV (D+1.2% from toss-up), Senate 50 D (D+1.0%)
Nov 3 polls: Biden 342 EV (D+5.3%), Senate 50-55 D (D+3.9%), House control D+4.6%
Moneyball states: President AZ NE-2 NV, Senate MT ME AK, Legislatures KS TX NC

The mailbag

September 5th, 2020, 7:59am by Sam Wang

Some recent correspondence of interest…

O.G. writes:

It seems to me that it is imperative that as many states as possible modify their handling of mail-in ballots, so that those received by Election Day are reflected already in the Election Day vote count. (As far as I know, this is not happening to a sufficient degree, not even in Democratically-controlled states nor in states with reasonably-fair bipartisan control.)

The Election Day narrative really, really matters. If Trump is ahead at any point, there is an alarmingly-high risk of it being Game Over.

Exciting times! Wish they were slightly less exciting.

M.D. writes:

In third world countries, exit polls are compared to election results to see if there has been election fraud. Is there anything set up this time in America to compare results to how people thought they voted?

Sam replies:

Can’t exactly do that because exit polls are themselves not very well weighted, i.e. they get adjusted to reflect the outcome.
Better to use opinion polls, though I think that is not standard practice.

L.M. writes:

Dear Prof. Wang:

I am an attorney and GOP political consultant in the SF Bay Area, and know of your quantitative work on redistricting. Wanted to comment on this mess.

(I last worked in politics in fall 2016. I handled a School Board race in a suburb of ~70,000. My client, who won, was also named Wang. Good guy.)

Your fears are justified. As you heard, in CA, where the majority of votes have been absentee for many years, we’re used to this. Most swing states are not and need to prepare.

In CA, “early absentees”, meaning ballots received by Friday or maybe even Saturday, are tabulated in advance. They are counted and the numbers made public at 8:05 pm, before the polling place votes are counted. They lean GOP. But ballots arriving in mail on Mon or Tues are buried. Those are “late absentees”. Counties start counting them on Wed, after 100% of precincts have reported.

Voters often fill out a VBM and either due to procrastination or distrust of USPS, they drop it off in their polling place. Such ballots are also late absentees. This is a massive number of votes. I recall spending an hour volunteering at a suburban polling place several years ago. Maybe 3 people walked in to vote, while 20 or more put a VBM ballot in the drop box.

Provisionals get counted last, and only matter in a true nail-biter of a race.

I think about a third of the total vote is late absentee in a pre-pandemic year.

You may not know this, but in 2010, when Jerry Brown won the Governorship, Kamala Harris ran for AG against Steve Cooley, the DA of LA County. She was a slight underdog. She gained ground late in the night and pulled ahead in the wee hours. A week later, Cooley took the lead. But just before Thanksgiving, Harris won by a hair. Change 1/4% of the vote, and she is not a Senator.

We have Leg or House races like this every cycle, and the CA media gets it. Patience is needed.

You need each state to publicize its unique system, and lobby the media to report accurately. Let’s hope.

Stay safe,


Tags: 2020 Election

4 Comments so far ↓

  • Michael Tiemann

    Sam, just as you have done a 50-state explainer of candidates and politics, I like the idea of coding and explaining state voting tabulation rules. If we know ahead of time which states have what % of votes tabulated via what methods by what dates, we’ll know what states are reporting remotely reliable info on election night vs day after vs weeks after. Gotta get this story way out there so there’s no overreaction to election-night noise rather than signal.

  • 538_Refugee

    My wife and I got mail saying our request for absentee ballots were rejected as incomplete. They included copies and sure enough our birth dates were missing. Since the applications were not hand written and in all caps I knew this had to have been a fill in and download thing. I went to the site, redid the application, and printed it out. Different formatting so obviously it has been changed.

    Called the board of elections. I guess this happened to lots of people. They say we just didn’t see it. She threw out a 40% figure for people missing this line. A well designed web app will alert you to missing required information. I think most of us do our proofing BEFORE printing something out. I was under the assumption that all was good and all I had to do was print, sign and date. Lesson learned here. They did take our birth dates over the phone.

    It does appear Ohio is sending applications to all registered voters though. We got those in the mail the next day.

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