Reading the tea leaves on early vote

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The hottest political game right now is the effort to dissect early voting data, as parties – and their supporters – try to figure out which side has the advantage, while the debate rages over whether it really means anything.

“There are a lot of people who like to read the tea leaves,” said political analyst John Fortier, who told an election forum at the American Enterprise Institute that he’s not sure it’s a dead-on indicator of what will happen in the elections.

“It’s not clear that some enthusiasm for early voting in one state is a sense that one party is doing better, or even that there’s going to be higher turnout,” said Fortier.

But with all kinds of numbers on who has voted in a number of states, it’s hard not to try to figure out which party might be in the lead.

“We’re seeing high turnout – at least in the early vote – in some of these key Senate battleground states,” said Michael McDonald, who runs the Elect Project website, which tracks how many ballots have been requested and returned in various states.

Asked on C-SPAN what the data might mean, McDonald said it’s hard to say whether this will mean higher overall turnout, or just the same turnout level spread out over a longer period of time.

“Both the Democrats and Republicans have invested very heavily in voter mobilization and early voting activities,” said McDonald, who teaches at the University of Florida.

McDonald’s website reports that as of Tuesday evening, over 3 million ballots had already been cast around the nation – that number grew by over 500,000 in one day as early voting activity increases.

And on social media, it wasn’t hard to find evidence of that:

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