How Early Voting Changed Campaign Strategy

Simone Gao: Despite strategic mistakes, the fact remains that going into the midterm elections, polling showed the Republicans losing 20-to-25 seats, not 40. So that brings us back to how Democrats operated on the ground to generate a midterm turnout that nearly matched their presidential turnout.

Narration: Fifteen years ago, Republican operatives developed 72-hour teams. They were made up of specialized campaign staffers who would swoop into a campaign in the last three days before voters went to the polls. These teams revolutionized electioneering as they came in without warning and ramped up enthusiasm with get-out-the-vote efforts.

Narration: To counter these 72-hour teams, Democrats worked to change voting laws. Early absentee voting was always available to voters with valid reasons for not voting on Election Day. But the new laws allowed for “no excuse” early voting.

Narration: Early voting changed the dynamic. Instead of 72-hour teams, Democrats developed 30-day teams. Weeks before an election, party operatives could mobilize voters to get to polls with time to follow-up and repeatedly get back to them—instead of the short 12-hour window on election day.

Narration: Early voting has changed campaign strategy and even polling as pollsters now have to ask respondents if they have already cast their vote. The remaining hurdle was that, in early voting, operatives still had to get voters physically to the polls.

Narration: In the 2018 midterms, for the first time, we saw Democrats use a large-scale hybrid tactic called ballot harvesting. Ballot harvesting is the early collection of ballots from voters, so that they do not have to travel to the polling station.

Narration: According to the California Secretary of State’s office, during the last midterm election in 2014, California voters turned in 4.5 million absentee ballots. This year, there were 8.3 million.