Americans?are rushing to cast ballots ahead of the United States November 3 election at an unprecedented pace, early voting numbers show, indicating a possible?record?turnout?for the showdown between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
With four weeks to go before Election Day, more than four million Americans already have voted – more than 50 times the 75,000 who had done so at this time in 2016, according to the United States Elections Project, which compiles early voting data.
The shift has been driven by an expansion of early and mail-in voting in many states as a safe way to cast a ballot during the coronavirus pandemic and an eagerness to weigh in on the political future of President Trump, said Michael McDonald of the University of Florida, who administers the project.
“We’ve never seen this many people voting so far ahead of an election,” McDonald said. “People cast their ballots when they make up their minds, and we know that many people made up their minds long ago and?already?have?a judgement about Trump.”
The early surge has led McDonald to predict a?record?turnout?of about 150?million, representing 65 percent of eligible voters, the highest rate since 1908.
Biden leads Trump in national opinion polls, although surveys in crucial battleground states indicate a tighter race.
The numbers reported so far come from 31 states, McDonald said, and will grow rapidly as?more?states begin early in-person voting and report absentee mail-in totals in the next few weeks. All but about a half-dozen states allow some level of early in-person voting.
The percentage of voters who cast their ballots at voting machines on Election Day already had been in steady decline before this year, according to the US Election Assistance Commission, a federal agency.
The total number of early or mail-in votes?more?than?doubled from nearly 25?million?in 2004 to 57?million?in 2016, it said, representing an increase from one in five of all ballots cast to two in five of all ballots cast.
Trump has railed against mail-in voting, making unfounded accusations that it leads to fraud. Experts?have?said such fraud is rare.
Those attacks by the president?have?shown signs of depressing Republican interest in voting by mail. Democrats have more than doubled the number of returned mail-in ballots by Republicans in seven states that report voter registration data by party, according to the United States Elections Project.
In the crucial battleground state of Florida, Democrats?have?requested?more?than?2.4?million?mail-in ballots and returned 282,000, while Republicans?have?asked for nearly 1.7?million?and returned?more?than?145,000.
A national Reuters/Ipsos poll taken last week found five percent of Democrats nationwide said they had?already?voted?compared with two percent of Republicans. About 58 percent of Democrats planned to vote early compared with 40 percent of Republicans.
McDonald said early voting typically starts strong, then drops before surging just ahead of the election. But in some states, rates of participation?already?have?skyrocketed a month out.
In South Dakota, early voting this year?already?represents nearly 23 percent of the total?turnout?in 2016. It is nearly 17 percent of total 2016 turnout?in Virginia and nearly 15 percent of total 2016?turnout?in the battleground state of Wisconsin.
“That’s just nuts,” McDonald said. “Every piece of data suggests very high?turnout?for this election. I think that’s just a given.”