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2020 Election: Early Voting, Absentee Votes, Exceed 2016 Total In Majority Of States

Early Voting counts show a record level of civic participation before Election Day. The tens of millions of ballots already cast show highly enthusiastic voters are making sure their votes are counted amid a pandemic. Democrats hope this energy leads to a decisive victory in the Presidential election. Registered Democrats are outvoting Republicans by a large margin in states that provide partisan breakdowns of early ballots. Republicans, however, are more likely to tell pollsters they intend to vote in person, and the Republican party is counting on an overwhelming share of the Election Day vote going to President Donald Trump. Voting before Election Day has been expanded this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, an option that more than 60 percent of registered voters want, according to a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll in September.

More voters than ever before can vote by mail this election. While the concept of voting by mail can be traced back to the Civil War and some Western states have long conducted their elections by mail, others, such as New Hampshire, allow all voters to cast ballots by mail for the first time. Several key states, such as Wisconsin, Arizona, and Iowa, greatly expanded mail-in voting, bringing to 12 the number of states that now mail absentee applications to everyone registered. By the end of September, requests for absentee ballots had already surpassed 2016 levels in nearly every state. In 10 states, all voters are being sent a mail-in ballot automatically. Voters are also taking advantage of in-person early voting, with a record-breaking number showing up on the first day of early voting in some states. This is Virginia’s first election with early voting, a change made after Democrats assumed control of the state House and Senate last fall. A handful of states expanded early voting in response to the pandemic, including Texas, where Republican Governor Greg Abbott extended it by a week. The critical question for Democrats is whether these 2020 early ballots are additional voters or just people who would have voted on Election Day anyway.

For states where early ballots can be matched against a voter file, roughly 1 in 5 votes have come from someone who did not cast a ballot four years ago in the same state. These new voters, who may have moved to a new state, turned 18, or just sat out the last presidential election, will probably play a pivotal role in choosing the next president. Even with so many ballots already cast, it is not definitive that unprecedented early voting will translate into voter turnout to exceed the historically high number of votes cast in 2016: 139 million. It is possible that when the dust settles after November 3, the number of Americans who voted will be similar to numbers in previous presidential elections, though they used different methods. One thing is clear through: Despite weeks of campaigning and news still to come, the election is well underway. A large share of Americans have not just made up their minds; they have sealed in their vote.

Matthew Rose
Matt studies and analyzes politics at all levels. He is the creator of, a scholarly resource exploring political trends, political theory, political economy, philosophy, and more. He hopes that his articles can encourage more people to gain knowledge about politics and understand the impact that public policy decisions have on their lives. Matt is also involved in the preservation of recorded sound through IASA International Bibliography of Discographies, and is an avid record collector.


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