WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — With a divisive battle between President Donald Trump and his Democratic rival Joe Biden coupled with enhanced early voting options due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re already seeing a record number of votes cast in the 2020 general election.
According to data from the U.S. Elections Project, more than 1.8 million people have already voted.
According to Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida who runs the project, the number is unprecedented saying the current figure, “has never occurred in any American election. Period.”
Virginia leads all states with nearly a half million ballots cast. Some of the highest numbers are in other battleground states like North Carolina and Wisconsin.
Right now, mail ballots or early votes are being tracked in about half of U.S. states. McDonald reports many states are providing incomplete numbers or don’t make their overall statistics easily available. For that reason, he expects the actual number of votes cast by this point to be much higher.
McDonald attributes the changing of state laws as one big reason for the big boost in ballots submitted. Prior to this election, Virginia had very limited in-person early voting. With changes in 2020, well over 200,000 Virginians have already voted.
Mail-in voting expansion for this election has opened up the practice to an additional 80 million Americans, according to the Washington Post. This include states like California that plan to mail ballots to any registered voter.
As you might imagine, the pandemic itself is also getting people to vote early. No law changes took place in North Carolina, but more than 250,000 voters have already mailed in their ballots. It’s believed people largely view this as the safest way to vote.
In-person voting remains the only option in seven states unless people can provide an approved reason outside of the fear of COVID-19. Those states are Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, Indiana and New York.
And, of course, you can’t discount voter interest for the increase in early voting. McDonald says the idea of Donald Trump as a two-term president is fueling people on both sides to make their decision as early as possible.
Who are the voters we’re seeing out this early? McDonald breaks it down this way:
There is evidence in 2020 early voting data that supports those who are most intensely paying attention to politics, and who have already made up their minds, are those casting early votes. In Georgia, Michigan, and North Carolina, more older voters are casting ballots, and have a higher ballot return rate than younger voters. Academic studies consistently find a very strong correlation between age and attentiveness to politics. Typically, younger voters start casting their ballots in greater numbers as Election Day nears. I do not know if this pattern will happen this year, but I strongly suspect it will.
McDonald says he’s tracking 64 million mail-in ballots that have been distributed to voters. Due to hang-ups in numbers reporting, he expects that figure to be closer to 70,000.