Nearly 21 million Americans have already cast ballots in the 2020 election, a record-breaking avalanche of early votes driven by both democratic enthusiasm and a pandemic that has transformed the way the nation votes.
The 20.8 million votes cast as of Friday afternoon represent 15% of all votes cast in the 2016 presidential election, although eight states have yet to report their totals and voters still have more than two weeks to cast vote. Americans’ haste to vote prompted election experts to predict that 150 million votes could be cast and turnout could be higher than in any presidential election since 1
“It’s crazy,” said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist who has long tracked polls on his site ElectProject.org. McDonald’s analysis shows approx. 10 times as many people have voted compared to this point in 2016.
“We can be sure that this will be an election for high participation,” McDonald said.
So far, turnout is skewed, with Democrats surpassing Republicans by a 2-1 ratio in the 42 states included in the number of Associated Press. Republicans have backed this early Democratic advantage for several months as they have seen President Donald Trump shine against mail-in polls and raise unfounded concerns about fraud. Voting and now early voting suggest that the rhetoric has reversed his party’s rank and file from a method of voting that they traditionally dominated in the weeks before election day.
It gives the Democrats a tactical advantage in the final stretch of the campaign. In many critical battlefield states, Democrats have “beaten” some of their voters and may turn their time and money toward harder-to-find rare voters.
But that does not necessarily mean that Democrats will cast votes when ballot papers are counted. Both parties expect a swell of Republican votes on election day, which in a few hours can dramatically change the dynamics.
“Republican numbers will rise,” said John Couvillon, a GOP pollster who tracks early voting. “The question is at what speed, and when?”
Couvillon said Democrats cannot rest on their ballot, but Republicans themselves are making a big gamble. A number of factors, from rising viral infections to the weather, can affect personal turnout on election day. “If you put all your faith into a voting day, it’s a really high risk,” Couvillon said.
Therefore, despite Trump’s rhetoric, his campaign and party encourage their own voters to vote by mail or early and in person. The campaign, which has sent volunteers and staff into the field for months despite the pandemic, shows a recovery in voter turnout in key swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania – a sharp turn from the usual pattern as a presidential election awaits.
But it has had limited success selling absenteeism polls. In key swing states, Republicans are far less interested in voting for the post.
In Pennsylvania, more than three-quarters of the more than 437,000 ballots sent so far from the mail have been from Democrats. In Florida, half of all ballots sent so far from the mail have been from Democrats and less than a third of them from Republicans. Even in Colorado, a state where each voter is sent to a poll and Republicans usually dominate the first week of the vote, only 19% of the ballots cast have come from Republicans.
“This is all encouraging, but three weeks is a lifetime,” Democratic data strategist Tom Bonier said of the number of early polls. “We may be in the middle of the first quarter and the Democrats have put a few points on the board.”
The huge amount of voting has taken place without any of the violent clashes at polling stations that some activists and law enforcement officials feared. It has presented high-profile errors – 100,000 defective mail ballots sent in New York, 50,000 in Columbus, Ohio, and a supplier supplying the state and Pennsylvania blaming delays in sending votes after overwhelming demand. But there are few signs of the mass disruption that some feared, as polling stations suddenly had to switch to deal with the influx of early voters.
But there have been extraordinary lines and hour-long waits in Georgia, Texas and North Carolina as they have opened personal voting early. The delays were largely the result of insufficient resources to deal with the wave, something that proponents claim is a form of overthrow.
Republicans claim that these signs of enthusiasm are meaningless – Democratic early voters are people who would have voted anyway, they say. However, an AP analysis of early voting shows that 8% of early voters had never cast a ballot before and 13.8% had voted in half or fewer of the previous elections to which they were eligible.
The data also shows that voters embrace mail voting, which health officials say is the safest way to avoid coronavirus infection during voting. Of the early voters, 82% voted by mail and 18% in person. Black voters cast 10% of the ballot papers, roughly the same as their share of the national voter, according to the AP analysis of data from L2, a political data company. It is a sign that those voters who have been less likely to vote by post than white people and Latinos have become hot to the method.
Mail polls have so far skewed towards older voters, half of whom come from voters over the age of 64. Traditionally, younger voters and minority voters send their mail ballots closer to election day or vote in person.
The mail votes already returned in several states dwarf the entire total number by pre-election. In Wisconsin, more than five times as many mail votes have been cast compared to the total number in 2016. North Carolina has seen nearly triple that number so far.
Early voting in person began this week in several major states and also broke records, especially in crowded, democratic metropolitan areas. In Texas, Houston’s Harris County saw a record 125,000 votes. In Georgia, hour-long lines from polling stations entered much of the state’s urban areas.
Tunde Ezekiel, a 39-year-old lawyer and Democrat who voted early in Atlanta on Thursday, said he wanted to be sure he had a chance to oust Trump from office: “I do not know what things will look like. on Election Day. … And I would not take any chances. ”
The obvious enthusiasm among Democrats has delighted party members, but they note that it is difficult to tell which way turnout will ultimately fall. Republicans may be just as motivated, but hide themselves for election day.
“High turnout can benefit both sides,” Bonier said. “It just depends.”
Associated Press authors Kate Brumback of Atlanta and Pia Deshpande of Chicago contributed to this report.