What can we conclude from Florida absentee numbers?

Absentee ballot returns are piling up in Florida, and both campaigns are trying to spin the numbers.

Bloomberg reports that 275,000 ballots have come back, 44% from registered Republicans and 40% from registered Democrats.  As long time readers of this blog know, Republican voters have historically used the absentee / by mail option more than Democrats, so the fact that these numbers are so close leaves Dave Weldon, a former member of Congress working on the Romney campaign, “certainly concerned.”

You haven’t seen any analysis of these data here, however, because of an anomaly in Florida law.  Absentee ballot requests and returns are

…exempt from state public records law. Political parties and candidates are able to obtain and release the information.

I describe this as anomalous because Florida early in-person voting returns are easily accessible on the Internet.  There is no reason to provide one piece of information and not the other, since they are in essence the same thing–early ballot returns–and only vary by mode.

This makes it very difficult to assess the real information from the absentee returns.  Both campaigns have surely compared the return rates to voter history files, which provide information on past voter turnout, including the mode of balloting.  This same information is contained in the vote mobilization files assembled on the Dem side by Catalist and the GOP side by VoterVault.  The rest of us are forced to rely on the information released by the campaigns and by overall totals released by the state.

And is there good reason to think there has been change since 2008?

Yes there is–as Bloomberg reports:

Democrats have closed the gap by targeting voters who might not have otherwise cast a ballot, said Eric Jotkoff, communications director for Obama in Florida. The Democrats’ focus on absentee voting followed a state law last year that cut early voting at the polls from 15 to eight days.

This makes it very difficult to draw any firm conclusions from the absentee voter data at this point.