The 22.2 million ballots that were tabled on Friday evening account for 16% of all votes cast in the 2016 presidential election, even though eight states have not yet reported their total and voters have more than two weeks to cast their ballots.
Americans’ rush to vote is causing election experts to predict a record 150 million votes could be cast and the turnout could be higher than any presidential election since 1908.
“It’s crazy,” said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist who has long followed the vote for his website, ElectProject.org. The analysis by McDonald’s shows that compared to this point in 2016 about ten times as many people voted.
“We can be sure that this will be a high turnout election,” said McDonald.
Republicans have been preparing for this early Democratic advantage for months after watching President Donald Trump rail against postal ballot papers and raise unfounded concerns about fraud.
Polls and now early votes suggest that rhetoric has turned his party’s base from a voting method that traditionally dominated it in the weeks leading up to election day.
That gives the Democrats a tactical advantage in the final leg of the campaign. In many critical battlefield states, Democrats have “banked” some of their voters and can spend their time and money on hard-to-find rare voters.
However, this does not necessarily mean that the Democrats will be at the top of the vote when the ballots are counted. Both parties expect an increase in the Republican vote on election day, which could dramatically change the dynamic within a few hours.
“The Republican numbers will go up,” said John Couvillon, a GOP pollster who is following the early voting. “The question is, at what speed and when?”
A number of factors, from rising viral infections to the weather, can personally affect voter turnout on election day.
“If you put all your trust in a day of voting, it’s a really high risk,” said Couvillon.
Therefore, despite Mr Trump’s rhetoric, his campaign and party encourage their own voters to cast ballots by mail or early and in person.
The campaign, which has been sending volunteers and staff into the field for months despite the pandemic, is promoting an increase in voter registration in key swing states such as Florida and Pennsylvania – a sharp reversal of the usual pattern in upcoming presidential elections.
In Pennsylvania, more than three-quarters of the more than 437,000 ballots mailed to date have been from Democrats.
In Florida, half of all ballots sent in the mail have been from Democrats and less than a third from Republicans. Even in Colorado, a state where a ballot is sent to every voter and Republicans typically dominate the first week of voting, only 19% of ballots returned are from Republicans.
“It’s all encouraging, but three weeks is a lifetime,” said Democratic data strategist Tom Bonier of the early voting numbers.
“We may be in the middle of the first quarter and the Democrats have put a few points on the board.”
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