“The early voting is amazing. The numbers are off the charts,” Orange County Registrar Neal Kelley said. “I’ve never seen this kind of volume so soon, which is significant.”
Kelley speculated that it could be motivated in part by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People are understanding, ‘Why do I have to take this added risk to go out to vote, why not do it comfortably from home?”‘ Kelley said. “We’re hearing that from voters.”
There is also “high interest” in the presidential election, Kelley said.
“I’m hearing that anecdotally,” Kelley said.
There’s also some anxiety among some voters about whether their votes will be delivered on time, given reports about cutbacks in service at the U.S. Postal Service, Kelley said.
“People are walking in their ballots, saying that they want to get it out of the way early and get it in,” Kelley said. “I think that’s good. Maybe that won’t let people rush at the last minute.”
About 235,000 ballots have been returned out of 1.7 million vote-by-mail ballots sent to registered voters, Kelley said.
“In 2016 at this time we had about 70,000 back, so it’s a pretty significant difference,” Kelley said.
And the county broke records for vote-by-mail participation in 2016, Kelley said. In that election, the county saw 80 percent turnout, Kelley added.
“Today, we received about 33,000 ballots and it’s been consistently in the 30,000s for six days,” Kelley said. “I’ve never seen that.
“You usually see dips and ebbs and flows, especially around the weekends when it picks up. But this has been consistent every single day.”
If the pace keeps up, it’s possible the county will have most of the votes counted on election night, Nov. 3, Kelley said.
“If this is an indicator of what people will do on the front end, then we’ll have almost every one processed on election day,” Kelley said.
What will be left over to count will be votes cast in person on election day and the ballots trickling in through the mail, Kelley said.
Ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3, but instead of having to arrive within three days as was the standard in past elections, this year they can be received up to 20 days after the election, Kelley said.
The county plans to update its tallies every day by 5 p.m., which has been the county’s protocol in past elections.
Ballots cast by Democrats are outpacing those from Republicans by about 30,000, Kelley said.