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Voter turnout is estimated to be the highest in 120 years

The US Elections Project estimates nearly 67 percent turnout — the highest since 1900.

People turned out to vote, by mail and in person, in record numbers this year.
John Moore/Getty Images

The early voter turnout rate for the 2020 election reached a record high, and it looks like total turnout may set a record as well — at least for the past 120 years.

More than 160 million people may have voted in this presidential election, according to a preliminary estimate by University of Florida professor Michael McDonald, who runs the nonpartisan elections data website US Elections Project. That would mean 66.9 percent of the voting-eligible population turned out in this election — the highest rate since 1900, when 73.7 percent of the population turned out to vote. Earlier, McDonald had predicted that 150 million people, or 65 percent of the voting-eligible population, would turn out this election.

Such high turnout is especially impressive given that it happened during a pandemic, which left many wary of going to the polls. But states expanded voting options, and many Americans used mail-in ballots to cast their vote.

Chart: 2020 voter turnout is estimated to be the highest in 120 years

Votes are still being counted — indeed the outcome of the election is still unsure — so the total numbers are subject to change, but it’s likely to be very high. Turnout in 2016 was 60.1 percent, an already impressive number for recent years. Still, early vote numbers this year surpassed total 2016 numbers in several states, including Texas, Montana, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Hawaii.

High rates of voter turnout are likely due to several factors, including increased enthusiasm and a highly partisan race in which few people claimed to be undecided. “Get out the vote” messaging was also omnipresent across social media, from friends and companies alike.

Many Americans heeded the vote early directive, and it looks like many voted on the day of, too.

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