Early voting in 2020 U.S. election already smashing 2016 levels

A sign directs residents outside an early voting polling location for the 2020 Presidential election in Atlanta, Georgia, on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.

Elijah Nouvelage | Bloomberg | Getty Images

More than 10.6 million voters across the U.S. have cast their ballots in the November election as of Tuesday morning, according to data from the U.S. Elections Project.

With exactly three weeks until Election Day, early voting turnout both in-person and via mail is far outpacing that of 2016. By October 16 of the last presidential election, only about 1.4 million voters had cast a ballot.

The soaring level of early voting comes as the coronavirus pandemic has created an unprecedented demand for safer alternatives to casting ballots. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that expanded mail-in voting will lead to widespread voter fraud.

The project, led by University of Florida professor Michael McDonald, reports that Democrats are leading the historic surge of early voting. Out of 4.6 million mail ballots received, Democrats have cast around 2.6 million.

McDonald emphasizes that high turnout from Democrats thus far should not be interpreted as an indicator of final election results.

“Yes, the numbers are very good for Biden. The campaign has to be pleased since they can leverage the banked voters to more efficiently re-target their supporters who have not voted yet. However, it is very likely Republicans will show up in force to vote in-person,” McDonald wrote on the U.S. Elections Project website.

Over 46 million mail ballots requested across the country have yet to be returned.

“I predict in the coming weeks the Democratic narrative will change from euphoria over the apparent large leads in early voting to concern that a disproportionately large number of younger voters have yet to return their mail ballots,” McDonald wrote.

In-person early voting began Monday morning in Georgia and Tuesday morning in Texas, bringing high turnout and long lines.

NBC News reported on Monday that waits at Georgia voting sites lasted as long as 9 hours and 39 minutes. Counties in the state with large non-white populations in particular reported long lines, supporting research that shows race is a key indicator in how long a voter waits in line at a polling station.

Officials in Harris County, Texas’ most populous county, told NBC News that more than 4,500 people voted in the county the first 30 minutes after polls opened.

North Carolina, a key swing state, will begin in-person early voting on Thursday. The state utilizes a “one stop” early voting model that allows eligible North Carolinians to register and vote at the same time.

The U.S. Elections Project data shows several states have already exceeded 20% of their total votes from 2016, including Wisconsin, Minnesota, Virginia and Vermont.

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