How many votes have been cast in Florida?

A little mathematics and some web browsing skills, and it looks like somewhere between 8% and 17% of the ballots in Florida have already been cast.

Keep in mind that, as of today, four candidates (Bachmann, Cain, Huntsman, and Perry) were on these ballots, and three (Bachmann, Huntsman, and Perry) were still actively competing well into the absentee balloting period.

We’ll use Miami Dade County to make our calculations, but this same exercise can be done throughout Florida (and you can bet the Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum forces are making these calculations daily).

Miami Dade County, reports 42,149 absentee ballots returned as of close of business yesterday, totaling 32% of the 130,491 ballots mailed out.   The Miami Herald reports 143,000 ballots voted statewide, just over 30% of absentee ballot request.

According to GOP registration for the primary (the county code for Miami is “DAD”), 35% of Republicans requested an absentee ballot.

That gives us the turnout so far, and the percent of registered Republicans who requested an absentee ballot.  Now we need to estimate overall turnout.   In the 2008 presidential primary, turnout statewide was 38%, and in Miami Dade, turnout among Republicans in the 2008 primary was 40%.   Among Republicans in Miami Dade in 2008, 20.8% (33,548) of all ballots were cast absentee (another 24,744 were cast early in person).

Now we have almost all the pieces of our puzzle: registration, percent requesting an absentee ballot, percent voting overall, and percent voting absentee.

But wait!  We already have  42,149 absentee ballots returned in Miami-Dade, almost 10,000 more than the 2008 total.  What’s going on?

Maybe there are more Republicans?  No–according to the state, there are 7000 more GOP registrants in Miami-Dade in 2012 than in 2008.  Maybe Republican turnout will be higher?  Possibly, although the 2008 primary was still quite competitive on the Republican side.

But what if Republicans are voting absentee at a higher rate than in the past?  State party leaders said that absentee ballot requests are double the 2008 rate! The ground has shifted in Florida.

Now the final piece of the puzzle: we need to take into account absentee ballots that are never returned.  Charles Stewart, in his recent Election Law Journal article “Adding Up the Costs and Benefits of Vote By Mail”  has coined the term “ballot leakage” to describe absentee ballots that are but not counted, either because they are not returned (20% nationwide) or otherwise spoiled.  We’ll try to account for “leakage” below.

Let’s do the math:

32% of absentee ballots already returned x 1.25 (assuming only 80% of absentee ballots are actually voted) = 40% of all absentee ballots that will be voted have already been voted.

40% x 20.8% (percent of all ballots in Miami Dade that were absentee in 2008) = 8.32% of the GOP primary vote in Miami Dade has already been cast.

And if the state GOP if correct, and twice as many GOP primary ballots will be cast absentee, then almost 17% of the ballots are already in. That’s an awful lot of votes cast on a ballot containing four names of candidates who are no longer in the race.