Nothing like numbers. They seem so firm and real. Thus the increasing journalistic obsession with them. The monthly housing report. The monthly new car report. The monthly revenue report. The Dow Jones average. Early voting.
Election officials have been energetically tallying early vote totals and news outlets have been vigorously reporting them, sometimes breathlessly.
People forget some truisms that existed when the only polling was done election day. A line does not necessarily mean a big turnout. It may just mean a line longer than an undermanned polling station can handle. The early returns are meaningless, unless you know where they come from. TV reporters love to follow a dynamic of changing leads. "Joe Blow took an early lead, but Jane Doe came roaring back." It's not a 400-meter dash where a strong finishing kick overcomes a quick starter. Changing totals are only a function of how quickly votes are tallied in disparate precincts.
I'm reminded of this today by a Public Policy Polling Twitter on North Carolina results:
Obama's up 57/42 among early voters in NC, Romney leads 50/45 with those who have yet to vote:
Which tells us little until we know how many people vote early as a percentage of the total vote and how many vote late.
Early voting doesn't mean more voting, by the way, though increased opportunity, it's hoped, will produce more participation.
To quote Yogi Berra (supposedly): It ain't over until it's over. Remember when libs were sure that an incredible ground game was going to result in the recall of all those baddies in Wisconsin? Remember the tidal wave of black voters that was expected to respond in, among others, Arkansas to the first black presidential candidate in 2008?
This is clear: It is too soon to predict outcomes, either in total voting percentage or outcome, based on what's happened so far.
But, it can't hurt to "just freaking vote" as the tableau erected in North Little Rock suggests. If the smaller sign is not legible, it notes that no rigid Voter ID law applies here yet. But election officials may ask for an ID and may set your ballot aside for challenge if sufficiently in doubt.
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