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CBS News Analysis: Early ballot returns point to healthy turnout in California recall

Massive voter turnout ahead of California recall election
Massive voter turnout ahead of California rec... 05:25

Over 6 million voters have already cast ballots in California's gubernatorial recall election.

Turnout so far looks healthy for an off-year special election. The number of returned ballots is at 80% of the number returned at an equivalent point last year, about one week out from Election Day. Early voting has slowed down since a week ago, when it was more or less keeping pace with the general election. A big question going forward is whether the high rate of early voting will sustain or slow down further in the coming days.

On one hand, the large early returns are welcome news for the Newsom campaign, as higher turnout may help him survive. Since California's registered voters are so Democratic — D+22 by party registration — the closer the actual recall electorate is to the broader pool of registered voters, the more Democratic we would expect the election results to be. In August, registered voters opposed the recall by eight points — double the margin among likely voters.

While there were signs this summer that Republicans were more excited about the race, recent polling suggests the trend is heading toward "No" to the recall. That's consistent with the early return data, suggesting that Democrats are in fact tuning into the campaign and voting — which is made easier by the fact that all registered voters in the state were sent a mail ballot.

On the other hand, even though the early returns are disproportionately from registered Democrats, that's just what we would expect if many Republicans wait to vote on Election Day. Last month, Republicans were three times likelier than Democrats to report planning to vote in person. They may also still be deciding who should replace Mr. Newsom, even if their minds are made up on voting to recall him. So, as we saw in 2020, a late surge of Republican voters is very possible, with lots of them likely waiting until Tuesday to vote.

So far, 56% of ballots are from registered Democrats, and about a quarter are from registered Republicans. About 60% are from likely White voters — higher than their proportion among all registered voters — while just 21% are from likely Latinos — lower than their overall numbers. That's also worth watching, as our polling found Latino voters to be mixed on the recall, though California Democrats often rely on them as an important part of their electoral coalition.

On Tuesday night, we'll be keeping a close eye on the differences between the early vote and Election-Day vote. The relative sizes of these groups will be important in determining whether Mr. Newsom survives and by how much. For reference, about nine in ten ballots were cast early in the 2020 general election. A successful recall probably requires a larger Election-Day turnout, as well as the difficult task of persuading a substantial portion of Democrats to vote against their Democratic governor.

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