With early voting now over in Florida and Nevada, a dramatic surge by Hispanic voters is raising eyebrows among political observers who say it signals bad news for Republican candidate Donald Trump in two key states.
In Florida, registered Democrats led Republicans by 87,000 out of 6.5 million ballots cast, or 1.36 percent in early voting. Of those almost one million - 15.3 percent - were Hispanic, an 85 percent increase from 2012 when Hispanics represented 10.9 percent of early voters.
Hispanics make up 16 percent of the election rolls, but historically have failed to show up in force at the polls. "This time we are seeing historic turnout,” according University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith, who tracks the state's voting patterns on his blog, electionsmith.com.
The turnout in some areas was so high in early voting that Democrat strategist Steve Schale estimated that about 67 percent of the likely electorate has already voted.
Florida and Nevada are both swing states considered must-wins for Trump in order to have any chance of being elected president.
Polls currently show both races statistically tied. But Clinton led Trump by a 30-point margin (60 per cent to 30 percent) among Florida Hispanics, according to a bipartisan Univision poll this week. Clinton is getting a massive lift from new Puerto Rican voters who favor by a whopping 71 percent to 19 percent, according to the poll.
In Nevada Clinton led by an even greater 53 point margin, 72-19 percent.
Nevada does not publish ethnic voter registration data but anecdotal evidence suggests Latinos there are also turning out in large numbers. Clark County, which is 30 percent Latino and includes Las Vegas, there were 72,000 more ballots cast by registered Democrats than Republicans. Overall, Democrats led in Nevada by 46,000 votes.
Apparently alarmed by the turnout, the Trump campaign protested when officials extended voting hours to allow people stand in line to cast their ballots. The chairman of the Nevada Republican Party Michael McDonald complained to a rally in Reno: "Last night, in Clark County, they kept a poll open 'til 10 o'clock at night so a certain group could vote. The polls are supposed to close at 7."
Turn out also hit record levels in heavily-Hispanic Miami-Dade County, where almost 88 percent of the entire 2012 election turnout has already voted, Schale reported Monday in a daily election blog. “That just doesn’t happen,” he wrote.
Schale and Smith say the data reflects the changing demographics in Florida as well as a strong Clinton campaign voter turnout effort that was having particular success with what are known as “low propensity voters.”
In Florida 36 percent Hispanics who have cast ballots did not vote in 2012, Smith noted. “That's 12 points higher than whites,” he said.
The percentage of white voters has also steadily dropped during early voting. “This is the Clinton recipe for winning,” Schale wrote.
A Trump surge on Tuesday was still possible, he added, because the most under-performing counties were in the conservative Panhandle where election day turnout might be higher.
Another unknown is the large number of independent voters who have also surged in early voters, making up 21.6 percent of ballots.
While polls suggest they tend to lean towards the Democratic Party, little is known about them, warn Smith and Schale.
"The electorate is shaping up for a really competitive get out the vote drive on Tuesday. It’s going to come down to who has the troops on the ground getting folks to the polls that’s going to make the difference," said Smith.
The large early vote turnout comes on the back of record voter registration by Hispanics in Florida this year. Smith's analysis found that nearly 23 percent of the 820,000 voters who registered this year in Florida describe themselves as Hispanic. While ethnicity is optional on voter forms, the number is way over the 16 per cent Latino share of the state's population. New white voters represented 52 percent of new voters, despite accounting for 68 percent of the voting population.
As of Oct 1 Hispanics made up 15.5 percent of registered Florida voters, up from 13.5 percent in 2012. That does not include about 50,000 voters who registered late and about whom data is not available. Smith estimated that there now 200,000 more Hispanic voters registered than in 2012. In 2012 Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney in Florida by only 74,000 votes.
Of the 186,000 newly registered Hispanic voters, Smith said 42 percent are Democrats and only 15 percent registered Republican. Another 42 percent did not register a party affiliation. Previously Republicans represented 26 percent of Hispanic voters in Florida.