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Democrats banking early-vote lead in Virginia governor's race - CBS News analysis

Virginia's governors race remains razor thin
Virginia's governors race remains razor thin 06:12

As Virginia's early voting deadline approaches, Democrats have slowly and steadily built a lead in the race for governor there. The big question is whether Republicans will close the gap on Election Day Tuesday.

More than 700,000 voters have already cast ballots in Virginia's general election, according to the state's Department of Elections. That number is at about a third of where it was a week before the presidential election last year. The total number of early votes is on track to end up near a million when the election is over. Most early ballots are being cast in person at Virginia's early vote centers, which are scheduled to close Saturday.

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While about six in 10 Virginians voted in advance of Election Day last year, that number was far lower before the coronavirus pandemic. Many voters now appear to be switching back to Election Day, which is when we expect most votes to be cast.

Several Democratic counties had been lagging their previous share of early votes, but there has been a noticeable uptick over the past few days. For example, Fairfax and Loudoun — counties close to Washington, D.C., that Joe Biden won handily — added about 40,000 and 10,000 votes, respectively, since last week.

Overall, we estimate that the early ballots received so far make up about a quarter of the total votes expected in the election. That proportion is bigger in more Democratic areas of the state, meaning they're likely to have a smaller share of ballots to process on Tuesday. Very Republican counties, on the other hand, are likely to see the lion's share of their ballots cast on Election Day.

While we don't know with certainty which party people are voting for, we estimate that Democrats have banked a lead of about 200,000 votes from ballots that have already been cast. This estimate comes from a model based on survey responses, voters' demographics, and past precinct results matched to voter files.

For reference, Joe Biden won early voters by over 800,000 votes last year. With the dropoff in early voting this year, Democrats can't match that performance, but they hope to pad their lead as much as possible over the next few days, so that it becomes insurmountable by the time most Republicans make it to the polls.

That said, we've seen increasing Republican turnout as Election Day approaches, especially at early vote locations. And a surge of Republican voters on Election Day, as our polling indicates, is possible and could tighten the race considerably, leading to a long election night.

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