Nov 1, 2023 - Politics

How Virginia political campaigns know if you voted early

Illustration of magnifying glass over a binary background that reveals a checkmark

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Pssst … we know how to make the ads stop.

What's happening: The introduction of early voting in Virginia has ushered in a new era of analytics that allows campaigns to obsessively model, categorize and track early returns down to individual voters.

Why it matters: In short, campaigns know if you voted early or not.

  • And they're going to keep barraging you with mail, canvassers and online ads until you cast that ballot.

What they're saying: "It's really about efficiency," says Paul Westcott, a director at L2, a national election data and analytics company that works with a handful of Virginia clients.

  • "We can say, 'This person or this household has already voted, let's skip them and save 70 cents.'"

How it works: It starts with an analysis of state voter files, which include the name, address and voting history of every registered voter in the state, Wescott said.

  • From there, campaigns deduce individual voters' partisan leanings based on their past participation in party primaries.
  • They also pull in consumer information from credit reporting bureaus, which provides info like income, education and even individual voters' hobbies.
  • And they'll try to deduce voters' race and ethnicity by analyzing their names — an approach campaigns privately acknowledge isn't always successful.

Context: Campaigns have used similar data to target ads for decades.

  • What's new in Virginia is the addition of 45 days of early voting and new daily updates the Virginia Department of Elections sends to data providers detailing which voters cast ballots.
  • The combo has given campaigns a real-time window into how many votes they're pulling in from likely supporters, which can help color strategy and, increasingly, pre-election day spin.

Zoom in: Talk of "proprietary models" and the numbers they spit out has permeated the horse race back and forth between parties.

  • This week, a spokesperson for the House GOP told Axios his team's modeling shows a big increase in early voting among Republicans. Plus: "It looks like in key places, we're overperforming," he said.

The other side: A top Democrat in the state Senate, Scott Surovell, said that the modeling he's seen suggests "the vast majority of the conservative voters are just Election Day voters voting early."

  • "They just seem to be cannibalizing their Election Day turnout," he said.

The bottom line: L2's Westcott says he takes model-based predictions with a grain of salt, but says he's confident voting early can help cut the number of ads you're subjected to.

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