With two days to go until Election Day, early voter turnout in the US has already reached historic levels. As of Sunday morning, around 92 million people have already cast their ballot — nearly twice as many as voted early in 2016 — and that number is sure to grow before Tuesday.
Early voter turnout this election is equivalent to just slightly more than two-thirds of the total votes cast in 2016, according to data provided by the US Elections Project, which is run by University of Florida professor Michael McDonald.
And some states are running far ahead of that 66.8 percent nationwide mark: Texas, for example, hasn’t just eclipsed its 2016 early vote total, but its entire 2016 vote total. In the Lone Star State this year, around 9.67 million people have already voted; in 2016, fewer than 9 million total voters cast a ballot.
Part of the reason for that is simple: Texas is a growing state. Since 2016, according to the Texas Tribune, it has added about 1.8 million new registered voters. But it’s not a pure numbers game; even in terms of percentages, something exceptional seems to be happening in Texas.
Specifically, voter turnout as a percentage of registered voters is already nearly on par with 2016 totals — 57.3 percent so far in 2020 versus 59.4 percent in 2016, again according to the Tribune — and is likely to climb even higher come Election Day.
Though only two states — Texas and Hawaii — have exceeded their 2016 turnout from early voting alone, other states are edging toward that mark. As of Saturday night, early voter turnout in Florida stands at 92 percent of the state’s 2016 vote total, according to the Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman.
Among others, Georgia, North Carolina, and Montana — states that could have major implications for control of the Senate when a new Congress is sworn in, and two of which are considered swing states in the presidential race — have also exceeded 90 percent of their 2016 turnout, according to the US Elections Project.
Covid-19 and voter enthusiasm contribute to early voter turnout
There are a few reasons for the sky-high early voter turnout we’ve seen so far, and first and foremost among those is the coronavirus. It’s generally a good idea to avoid congregating indoors in the middle of a pandemic, and early voting allows people to avoid that.
Mail-in ballots eliminate the need to go to a polling place altogether, and long early-voting periods help to spread out what might otherwise be Election Day crowds. Many states have taken steps to expand early voting opportunities this year: All but a handful offer no-excuse absentee voting, and even Texas, which doesn’t, added more days of in-person early voting.
Of the early votes cast so far, the lion’s share have been by mail: almost 59 million, versus 33 million in person.
People are also just plain excited to vote. According to Gallup, 67 percent of Americans said they were “more enthusiastic” to vote in 2020 than in previous elections, a 20 percent jump from 2016.
As Vox’s Jen Kirby and Rani Molla point out in their comprehensive early voting explainer, Democrats seem to have an edge in early vote totals so far. According to modeling by the Democratic data firm TargetSmart, Democrats are ahead by about 7 points.
Previous non-voters also appear to be turning out in 2020. So far, at least 16 million people who didn’t cast a ballot have done so in 2020.
And there’s a third noteworthy early-voting category: young voters. In Texas, for example, more than 1 million voters aged 18-29 have already voted early; only about 1.2 million total voted in 2016.
But while early vote numbers are a good sign for voter turnout writ large — which could hit the highest level in a century — it doesn’t necessarily say much about which candidate holds the edge going into Election Day.
Democrats are voting in much greater numbers by mail, which is a big reason they have such a big advantage in the early vote count. This was expected, especially as President Trump’s false but nonetheless repeated claims about voter fraud filtered down to his supporters. So Republicans are showing up for early in-person voting, and even more are expected to turn out on Election Day.
All of those mail-in ballots could also mean reporting election results takes a little longer — or a lot longer. In some states, election officials can’t start counting mail-in ballots until Election Day, no matter how early they came in, so don’t expect immediate results when the polls close on Tuesday.
Lastly, if you haven’t voted yet but still want to get your ballot in early, there are a few options. Some states offer early in-person voting through Monday — you can find a complete list here — so that may still be an option depending on where you live.
If you have a mail-in ballot, it’s almost certainly much, much too late to drop it in the mail with any confidence that it’ll arrive in time to be counted. Instead, your best bet is to return it to your local election office or a ballot dropbox (if one is available in your state).
Once you have that done, buckle up: 92 million Americans have already voted, and Election Day is almost here.
Correction, November 1: A previous version of this article stated that Texas was the only state to have eclipsed its 2016 vote total in the early voting period. Hawaii has also done so, and the story has been updated accordingly.