Earlier today, I covered here the status of the early vote in Nevada as seen by election analyst Jon Ralston.
Ralston has a long and solid track record of following the progress of mail-in and early in-person voting in Nevada as reported by the Secretary of State’s Office, which issues numbers each day regarding the party affiliation of voters who have returned absentee ballots or voted in-person during the early voting period under Nevada law.
Historically Ralston has found that if ballots returned during the early voting period show that registered Democrats have returned 70,000 more early ballots than have registered GOP voters in Clark County/Las Vegas, that “firewall” of banked votes is generally enough to offset the advantage the GOP has in turn-out to vote on election day.
The Washoe County/Reno area is close to 50-50 normally during the early voting period, but the GOP dominates the remainder of the state in early voting. But if the firewall of votes in Clark County is greater than 70,000, that is generally sufficient to offset the deficit in the rural counties along with the election-day vote where the GOP typically outperforms the Democrats.
Because 2020 may have as many as 200,000 more votes cast in Nevada than was the case in 2016, as well as with an overall turnout expected to be higher than 2016 as a percentage of the electorate, Ralston has estimated that the “firewall” of banked votes from early voting in Clark County this year needed to be closer to 80,000, and the overall lead in the state from early voting greater than 54,000 for the Democrats and Joe Biden to believe they are ahead enough to withstand the election day voting numbers that favor the GOP. Based on totals posted by the Secretary of State yesterday, it appeared that the Democrats had reached that total. In addition, because early voting has been in such large numbers compared to previous elections, the number of remaining registered voters who had not yet voted was smaller. Ralston saw Trump’s opportunity to win getting significantly smaller based on the fact that it appeared as if the Democrats had been effective in turning out the base to vote, especially with mail-in balloting where they had a significant lead.
Yesterday was the final day for early in-person voting in Nevada. When all the totals up through Friday were finally released, Ralston’s later updates to his blog on Saturday afternoon made it clear that that the GOP had a very good Friday in early in-person voting throughout the state, but especially in the rural counties. While the Democrats had the 81,000 ballot advantage in Clark County that Ralston thought they needed, early in-person voting in the rural counties was up substantially as well — with the result being that the overall lead for Democrats statewide was only 45,000 — less than the returned ballot lead Clinton had in 2016, and less than the extrapolated lead of 54,000 ballots statewide that Ralston projects Biden needs to be relatively safe from the advantage Trump will have from in-person voting on Tuesday.
Basically, as I read his analysis, while the Democrats got what they needed out of Clark County, the GOP has significantly overperformed in early voting in the rural counties. As a result, Trump is closer to Biden statewide than he was to Clinton four years ago when he ended up losing by 27,000 votes. What is not known is whether the better than expected performance in rural counties is simply early voting by voters who would have voted for Trump on Tuesday anyway, or Trump is drawing in more votes from a larger electorate in the rural counties than voted for him in 2016.
With the Democrats ahead in Clark County by 81,000 votes, Washoe County basically even, and the Democrat statewide lead at only 45,000, that means early voting in the rural counties has Trump ahead by over 35,000 votes and indicates either a decent number of cross-over votes from Trump in rural Nevada, or a higher percentage turnout of GOP voters than Democrat voters in rural Nevada, which does not bode well for Biden in the voting that remains to take place on Tuesday.
It was at this point four years ago that Ralston predicted Clinton would carry Nevada — and she did.
Ralston declined to make a similar prediction today for Biden. He still believes the math works against Trump having enough votes remaining uncast to overcome the deficit in the votes already cast — but he recognizes the potential for cross-over voting and how it might make the historical models inaccurate in 2020.