How many votes have been wasted due to early voting?

Late Sunday night, the campaigns of Ted Cruz and John Kasich announced an unprecedented level of collusion in an effort to stop Donald Trump from winning the Republican nomination. Kasich is suspending operations here in Indiana while Cruz is ceding New Mexico and Oregon.

Think of it like a three-man game of Monopoly. Donald Trump has been buying up property from the start, building quite a lead while Cruz and Kasich have been landing on Community Chest. He has a few hotels and is slowly bleeding his opponents dry. Realizing neither can win on their own, Cruz gives Kasich a monopoly on the light blues and purples, and Kasich floats Pacific Avenue to Cruz, giving him all three greens.

They each think they might be able to win with these properties. But at the very least, they can shut up Trump.

Monopoly analogy aside, the first reaction of many people on my Twitter timeline lamented what would happen to all Indiana’s early voters. This included State Rep. Dave Ober.

It seems like this has happened a lot this election. Voting in a state starts, then a candidate drops out, leaving that candidate’s early supporters disenfranchised. In a Republican race with 17 candidates, it was bound to happen. 

But exactly how much has it happened? We looked at these numbers to figure it out. Well over half a million votes have been cast for candidates after they dropped out of the race, but the number of disenfranchised voters is quite smaller. Most of these votes came well after the candidate quit or in states that don’t allow early voting. 


Just over 200,000 votes have been cast in the early voting window for candidates who later dropped out. Nearly half of those came in Arizona, where Marco Rubio bailed a week before Election Day.

This actually surprised me. When I started researching the numbers, I was expecting millions of voters. But 200,000 isn’t even the actual number. It’s the maximum. We can’t definitively say that all these votes were early. Early voting makes up only about 30% of all voting, so the number of “wasted” votes could be around 65,000 nationwide, or .25% of all votes cast. It gets even lower if you assume many people knowingly voted for someone who dropped out. Mike Huckabee has 40,000 votes for crying out loud, and he’s been out since the night of the Iowa caucus.

Should we reconsider the policy of early voting?

Early voting has emerged in the last 15 or so years as a palatable election reform that can increase voter turnout, but there are perils of early voting.

In a race such as the GOP presidential race this year, it’s likely you could be voting for someone who leaves the race the next day. In any other race, you could be voting without all the information. If a so-called “October surprise” emerges with deal-breaking information about a candidate, it’s too late to take an early vote back.

Remember when Donald Trump said he could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue and not lose votes? That’s literally true in the case of early voting.

But there’s another reason to be skeptical of early voting: it doesn’t actually increase voter turnout. In fact, according to a study of the 2008 election, early voting alone could decrease turnout. The result seems counterintuitive, but the study showed the people who voted early were the people likely to vote anyway (think of Rep. Ober, who would definitely vote). Additionally, the prevalence of voting for a month before Election Day reduced excitement for the day itself and altered campaigns’ turnout efforts.

With lower turnout and the threat of casting a vote with incomplete information, some might say it’s time to get rid of early voting. In fact, a few have. The Week and the Boston Globe have both called for an end to the practice.

But let’s not go overboard. Early voting isn’t necessarily about increasing turnout; it’s about making voting more convenient. That’s something we should embrace. And while the aforementioned study showed a decrease in turnout when early voting was implemented by itself, it increased turnout when done in conjunction with other reforms.

In regards to the winnowing fields in an election like this one? Well, I think a voter just needs to understand what they are signing up for. Certainly the well-informed voters who generally vote early do understand that. If not, maybe a disclaimer as you vote would help.

Early voting may not be perfect, but it’s impossible to judge a policy based on a crazy, outlier election like this one.




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