Tracking the Mail Vote in the Uncalled House Districts

Republicans have the upper hand in the race for control of the House, with a lead in 221 districts — more than the 218 needed to win.

If current trends in the post-Election Day count continued, they would maintain that narrow advantage, based on an analysis of the returns since Wednesday.

Republicans would prevail with a 219-216 majority, with Democrats narrowly overtaking them in only two districts — Arizona’s Sixth and California’s 13th. But recent trends may not continue. The count will shift to new kinds of ballots, like Election Day drop-offs, late-arriving mail ballots and provisionals. These may break differently than those counted so far.

Democrats’ hopes, while faint, are still alive for one main reason: They generally appear to be faring better in the post-Election Day count in California — where millions of votes remain to be counted — than they did on election night.

California looms so large in the battle for the House because the state is home to half of the races that remain to be called — including six uncalled races Republicans currently lead. A staggering 40 percent of the vote remains to be counted statewide, based on data released by the California secretary of state, giving each party plenty of opportunities to gain ground.

Democrats have gained ground far more often than Republicans since Tuesday in California. In some contested districts, late mail ballots have been more than 20 points more favorable for Democrats than those cast on election night.

So far, Democrats haven’t led the post-Tuesday count in California by enough to be favored to come back and take the handful of seats they would need to win the chamber.

It’s important to emphasize that this extrapolation is for illustrative purposes. Current trends will not continue indefinitely; the kinds of ballots being counted will change, yielding different results. The mail ballots arriving after Election Day, for instance, will not be like those that arrived beforehand. Provisional ballots may be different altogether.

Democrats have retained a glimmer of hope in California’s 13th, 22nd, 27th and 45th districts — enough to have a chance to control the chamber. In many cases, the postelection count is still so early that there is time for Democrats to hope for a reversal.

There are two districts, however, where Democrats have not significantly overperformed in the late count — California’s Third and California’s 41st — raising questions about how they can mount a comeback. White voters represent a larger share of the electorate in these districts than in most other battlegrounds in California.

The Republican strength in the late count in these districts fits a broader pattern with mail voting in recent years, when the late mail vote has at once tended to be relatively young, nonwhite and Republican. In the diverse districts of the Central Valley and Orange County, the Hispanic share of the late mail vote seems to swamp the Republicans who vote closer to Election Day. Where the electorate is not so diverse, the late vote appears tilted toward Republicans.

Indeed, Republicans have gained post-election in most districts outside California, where white voters tend to make up a larger share of the electorate.

Already, Republicans have overcome their deficit in Colorado’s Third (Lauren Boebert’s district). And they still have an outside chance to flip Washington’s Third, where they have made steady gains, though the number of remaining ballots is dwindling.

One exception is Arizona’s Sixth, where Republicans currently lead but where Democrats have been gaining. At the moment, Arizona’s Sixth figures prominently in the Democratic path to a comeback in the House. But this may prove to be a case where the extrapolation of trends isn’t representative. So far, Arizona has largely counted mail ballots that arrived before Election Day; Republicans hope to do better among the ballots dropped off on Election Day.


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