If early voting is an indication of how Tuesday's midterm elections will go--and it's debatable whether, and how, it can--early vote-by mail turnout in California predicts close races for Senate and governor.
Here's a breakdown of who has voted already through the state's vote-by-mail program, provided to The Atlantic by a source close to the California Republican Party. By party registration, here's a who has mailed a ballot so far:
Total Returns: 2,456,455
Dem: 1,056,498 (43.0%)
Rep: 959,617 (39.1%)
Decline to State: 350,337 (14.3%)
The California Secretary of State's office could not be reached for comment to confirm or deny the accuracy of these numbers.
You'll notice that Democrats hold a four-percentage-point lead over Republicans in early vote-by-mail turnout. Good news for Democrats.
But here's why this is actually good for Republicans, portending close races in both the Senate contest between former HP CEO Carly Fiorina and Sen. Barbara Boxer and the governor's race between former eBay CEO Meg Whitman and Attorney General Jerry Brown: You've got to assume that Republicans will win a majority of Independent voters this year.
The latest polling from CNN/Time finds Fiorina with a 49 - 41 percent advantage over Boxer among independents, while Whitman enjoys a 48 - 45 percent advantage over Brown. With 14.3 percent of early mail-in voters registered as independent, it's likely these contests are within narrow margins among these already-received ballots.
This early vote-by-mail turnout also shows Republicans outperforming turnout projections in polls. The most recent Suffolk poll shows an electorate made up of 45 percent Democrats, 31 percent Republicans, and 25 percent independents. The early returns show eight percent more Republicans having voted.
Which makes some sense. Democrats can be more likely to vote in person and generally turn in their ballots later, as Marc has previously pointed out. So maybe these numbers mean Democrats will do better, or at least as well as expected, in Election Day turnout.
It's questionable how much these numbers really portend. It's shaky business to draw a direct line between early voting and midterm results. The voting process is different, and, consequently, different people are more likely to vote early by mail or vote in person on Election Day based on their own personal tendencies.
It's a snapshot of who's voted so far and should be taken as such.