More than 71 million total ballots cast as of Wednesday morning suggested a record turnout for this year’s race compared to the 47.2 million early votes cast in the 2016 election, according to data from the United States Elections Project.
That number of early ballots cast so far represents 51.6% of the total national voter turnout in 2016, and the total number of ballots cast includes nearly 48 million mail-in ballots and more than 23 million in-person ballots.
“The numbers are stunning,” said Elections Project founder and University of Florida political science professor Michael McDonald in an Oct. 25 blog post on the project website.
McDonald said that not only are people requesting a record number of ballots, but they are sending them back sooner, giving election workers more time.
“Nationwide, voters will not only be sent an unprecedented number of at least 87 million mail ballots, but they are returning them sooner than in past elections,” McDonald wrote. “In all nearly 40 million mail ballots have been returned so far, a return rate of nearly 46%.”
“This is good news!” he continued, pointing to worries about whether or not government officials would be able to handle an election during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Yes, there have been problems, and in many places, lines are intolerably long,” he said. “But, people are voting and there are more opportunities for them to do so by Election Day. Americans’ resilience and support for their democracy is very heartening in these trying times.”
Some states have already reached more than 70% of their 2016 voter turnout as of Tuesday, including Texas (86.9%), Montana (75.4%). Georgia (71.4%), North Carolina (71.5%), New Mexico (74.4%), and Hawaii (86.8%).
California has seen the largest voter turnout so far; nearly 7.9 million Californians have cast ballots so far. Texas and Florida trail just behind with 7.8 million and 6.4 million ballots cast, respectively. North Carolina has already recorded 3.1 million ballots cast.
McDonald previously told Fox News that he “expected some things to be different since states changed their laws” to accommodate voters amid the pandemic. More than 87 million absentee ballots have been sent to voters so far this year.
“People did not have to take advantage of this,” he said of mail-in ballots and early voting. But many people already have.
California, however, has recorded the highest number of mail ballot requests at nearly 21.9 million compared to Florida’s nearly 6 million as of Wednesday morning. Voters in New Jersey have requested more than 6 million. Ballot request data remains unavailable in New York.
Democrats have requested 24.8 million ballots while Republicans have requested 14.7 million — a 10.1 million ballot request lead based on data from states reporting party registration including California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Flordia, Iowa, Maryland, Maine, North Carolina, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Utah.
Those ballot requests by party, however, may not be an accurate indicator of final election results, according to McDonald’s frequently asked questions page on the Elections Project website.
“Just because registered Democrats are leading Republicans in early voting, that does not mean the Republicans will not make up ground on Election Day,” McDonald wrote, adding that “registered Democrats typically lead Republicans during early voting, and Republicans vote on Election Day, a pattern that persists across many states and elections.”
McDonald noted that “[t]he election is not over yet, not by a long shot. There is still a little more than a week before the election, and Election Day itself to go.”
Colorado, Hawai’i, Oregon, Utah and Washington send mail-in ballots to every registered voter, and California, D.C., Montana, Nevada and New Jersey did the same this year as an alternative to voting in person during the COVID-19 crisis.