Through postmarked envelopes and in hours-long lines across the United States, American voters have hit the polls in record numbers weeks before the Nov 3rd election date.
At a polling site in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on Oct 16th, a line of voters steadily grew throughout the morning despite the rain. Some voters, like Myrtle Williams, 52, had come from nearby polling places for a shorter wait. “Actually, I started off at Town Hall and [the line] was so long so I googled other early voting sites,” she said. “I wasn’t in line more than 5 minutes.”
It was the second day of in-person early voting in the state, joining a number of other states that have opened the polls and begun processing mail-in ballots.
As of noon on Oct 16th, nearly 22 million ballots have been cast nationwide, with states like California, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Michigan already having seen over one million voters each. Concerns regarding the Covid-19 pandemic has driven an increase in request for mail-in ballots, as well as higher turnout at early voting sites to avoid long lines on Election Day that may overwhelm poll workers and voting infrastructure.
Since voting began on Sept 4th (when North Carolina sent out its first wave of absentee ballots) week by week, the number of voters in 2020 at this point has far surpassed that of previous elections. By Sunday, Sept 27th, almost one million people had cast their ballots. Two weeks later, on Oct 11th, that number had climbed to 9.3 million, almost 8 million more than had been cast by that time in 2016.
Over 81 million American voters have requested absentee ballots, though less than a quarter of those ballots have been returned. In the states reporting party registration, Democrats have both requested and returned ballots at a significantly higher rate than Republicans. In-person early voting, too, is favored by Democratic and left-leaning voters.
In Chapel Hill, voters were united in their opposition to incumbent President Donald Trump, unsurprising given the town is in a county where 73 percent of voters cast their ballots for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016. When asked what brought her to the polls, Williams said, “A new president. We need change.”
She was far from alone. One woman, who asked to go unnamed, said she had never missed an election, but showed up mainly to get Trump out of office. Another voter, Marcie Coyne, 51, said a Trump defeat would bring civility back to the country.
“I would say taking the country in the total opposite direction it’s going now,” Jared Gallaher, 38, said when asked why he voted.
This by no means indicates a victory for Democratic candidate Joe Biden is imminent. Republicans are likely to start showing up in force as early voting progresses and will likely dominate the polls on Election Day. Because absentee and in-person votes are not counted until Nov 3rd and the days following, early counts may strongly favor Trump.
“I predict in the coming weeks the Democratic narrative will change from euphoria over the apparent large leads in early voting to concern that a disproportionately large number of younger voters have yet to return their mail ballots,” Michael McDonald, a professor at the University of Florida and creator of the U.S. Elections Project, wrote on his website.
Despite a record number of early voters, there are still concerns about voter turnout through absentee ballots due to the Trump administration’s casting doubt on the efficacy of the already-underfunded United States Postal Service. The volume of outstanding absentee ballots just weeks before the election could overwhelm the USPS and put thousands, if not millions, of votes in jeopardy. Many of these ballots may not even be processed and counted until days after Nov 3rd.
The current Democratic lead is not absolute and the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 presidential election will likely continue in the coming weeks. One thing, however, is certain — it’s likely Americans, and the world, will not know the result of the elections by the end of polling day.
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