In Texas, with a week still to go before Election Day, more than 7 million people have already voted in the 2020 presidential election, exceeding the entire number of early votes cast in 2016. Based on those numbers, some analysts have predicted that the total Texas turnout could surpass 12 million voters this year, roughly 3 million more than in 2016.
In Georgia, 2.7 million voters have cast their ballot so far—double the total number cast in 2016—a record turnout reportedly driven by a huge increase in Black voters. In Florida, on the first day of early voting, 366,436 Floridians went to the polls, beating the number recorded four years earlier by more than 70,000 votes. In Michigan, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson estimates that two-thirds of her state’s voters will cast their ballots before Election Day. And in New York, where advance voting is being offered for the first time in state history, some voters stood on line for five hours or more over the weekend, saving spots and sharing pizzas.
Overall, more than 62 million Americans have already cast their ballot in the 2020 presidential race, easily breaking the record for early voting set four years ago, with some election observers predicting that the final tally could reach a historic 100 million votes. In 2016, the total number of votes cast, both in advance and on Election Day, was 133 million.
As President Trump continues to sow unfounded fears about mail-in ballots, and as the coronavirus has forced states from Alaska to Wisconsin to offer advance in-person voting to avoid polling stations being overwhelmed on Nov. 3 and creating a social-distancing nightmare, millions of people are casting their votes in ways they never have before and in numbers that are without precedent. The astronaut Kate Rubins even managed to vote from space:
No long lines in outer space: The astronaut Kate Rubins may have had an easier time voting from aboard the International Space Station than if she were back on earth. She cast her 2020 ballot using a special procedure designed especially for astronauts. https://t.co/S5DBUSqMKS
— The New York Times (@nytimes) October 26, 2020
In some crucial battleground states like North Carolina, Georgia, and Arizona, the advance vote already exceeds the total number of votes cast for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in November of 2016.
On social media this week, people were posting photos of long lines, reveling in the huge turnouts (though not the interminable waits), with one New York voter sending a shout-out to someone who no doubt is watching this election with decidedly mixed emotions and an of-the-moment heartthrob encouraging his Instagram followers to get to the polls:
This is the first time I’ve felt hope in a long time.
Thank you to all the young people that have voted early- let’s keep it up until we have not just some but all elected officials actually give a fuck about us.
— David Hogg Vote 🗳 (@davidhogg111) October 25, 2020
Early voting in Maryland has commenced. I’ve lived in my community since 1976. I’ve never seen lines for voting like this. pic.twitter.com/zYzBq5R0Op
— Brad Bell (@ABC7Brad) October 26, 2020
The fact that people are waiting for a very long time on very long lines in order to cast their votes is a sign of patriotism and determination. It is also a sign of a deeply broken democracy. #VOTE so we can fix this.
— Mary L Trump (@MaryLTrump) October 25, 2020
— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) October 26, 2020
But what does this surge in advance voting actually mean—and might it tell us anything about who will win the presidency on Election Day?
Initial polling has shown that the early vote is going overwhelmingly for Joe Biden, while Trump is expected to hold a substantial advantage with those who will vote in person on Nov. 3. Polling released Sunday by CBS News/YouGov showed that in Florida, 61% of those who already voted backed Biden while 37% backed Trump. In North Carolina, that split was 61% to 36%, while in Georgia it was 55% to 43%. (Updated figures from Florida suggest that Trump is closing the gap in advance voting in that state.). A University of Wisconsin Elections Research Center/YouGov poll of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin released Monday showed similar trends. Biden was ahead among those who already voted, while Trump held a substantial advantage among those who had yet to vote.
According to an analysis by Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida and an expert in early voting, in states that report party registration, 48 percent of the votes cast so far have been cast by Democrats, with 28 percent by Republicans and 22 percent by those with no declared party affiliation. (In contrast, President Trump is predicting a “red wave” of Republican voters who will show up in person on Nov. 3.)
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis urged his fellow Republicans to show up early:
It's game time!
"Florida is the nation’s most important swing state and the Republican Party is counting on us to deliver a WIN in November. You can vote—safely and securely—in person, at an official early voting site." –@GovRonDeSantis
— Florida GOP (@FloridaGOP) October 21, 2020
Initial results seem to suggest that voters in the 18-29 age group are casting early ballots in far greater numbers than they did in 2016, which could be good for the Biden/Harris ticket. According to data from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCE), a research center at Tufts University, the numbers of young people voting early have skyrocketed, particularly in several states that are critical for either candidate in the race for 270 electoral votes: Michigan, Florida and North Carolina. In Florida, for example, CIRCE found that 257,720 young voters in Florida had voted as of Oct. 21. That’s nearly 214,000 more than had voted at that time in 2016. And in Texas, another state that suddenly seems winnable for Biden, CIRCE said that “with more than a week of early voting and Election Day still to go, young people have already cast almost two-thirds as many early votes in Texas as they did in total in the 2016 presidential election.”
Another important demographic are voters over the age of 65. In some states, like Georgia, they are making up the largest single bulk of early voters. And while seniors went heavily for Trump in 2016, polls suggest they are souring on the president this time around, based on his administration’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. According to a recent CNN/SSRS poll, Biden is up by 21 points among voters 65 and older, while a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has the former vice president up by 27 points with seniors. As CNN reported, Biden is “on his way to doing better with seniors than any Democratic nominee in at least 24 years.”
Many Republicans continue to insist that in-person voting on Nov. 3 will tilt strongly toward Donald Trump, thus giving him a second term. Last month, an ABC News/Washington Post poll found that while Biden had more than a 2-to-1 advantage (67% to 31%) among those who planned to vote early, Trump led by 19 percentage points among people who said they intended to vote on Election Day.
But one longtime Republican strategist warns that day-of voting may not be enough to turn this race around. “It’s a warning flare,” Scott Reed, a veteran of several past GOP campaigns, told Politico when asked about the early Democratic lead. “Some Republicans are stuck in a model that we always run up the score on Election Day to make up the difference. I think running an election in a super-polarized electorate, you want to win early voting. Let’s go. Let’s stop talking and making excuses.”