As we await the results of the 2021 municipal election on a rainy Saturday — Election Day — let’s discuss historical early versus election day turnout percentages. How many people typically show up to vote on election day versus how many showed up in early voting?
Local election turnout numbers are volatile from year to year. Turnout varies depending on whether it’s an odd or even numbered year (mayors are on the ballot in even numbered years) and whether the races are competitive or uncontested. Check out this chart of total turnout numbers for citywide elections to see how volatile they can be. One thing you’ll notice is the giant spike in 2020. That year was much higher because it was the first time in recent history that the municipal election was on the same ballot as the general election (which included statewide and national races).
Other than the anomaly that was the 2020 municipal election, the highest ever historical turnout was for the 2018 city council and mayoral election, when over 4,000 voters cast a ballot. The election that most resembles this year’s election is the 2017 race, when Place 1 was contested but Place 2 was uncontested. That year, 2,144 ballots were cast.
Early vs. Election Day Turnout
Election day turnout is always much smaller than the total number of early votes cast. This makes sense to us logically, since early voting takes place over about seven days, whereas election day is just one day — typically twelve hours.
Here’s a chart showing the percentage of voters that voted early (or absentee) versus election day turnout.
On average, about 72% of voters show up to cast a ballot early, or use the absentee ballot process, and about 28% of voters show up on election day.
Forecasting 2021 Turnout
If we use the historical averages to estimate turnout for today — Election Day — we’d expect about 780 voters to cast a ballot today. We’ve had roughly 2,000 early voters and absentee ballots, and if we hold that number to be roughly 72%, we’d expect roughly 780 voters to make up that average of 28%.
If the historical average holds true, a total turnout of around 2,780 voters would be an increase of nearly 30% from the most similar recent election in 2017, but it would be about a 10% decrease from this same election in 2019, when both races were contested.
However, as we publish this article, it’s still raining heavily outside with no signs of letting up. Will the bad weather suppress the turnout? We can’t say, but we assume that it will decrease the number of voters today. We’ll find out tonight after the polls close at 7:00 PM.