US 2020 election could have the highest rate of voter turnout since 1908

Data from the US Elections Project predicts a record 150m ballots, representing 65% of eligible voters, for this election

More than 50 million Americans have cast ballots in the US presidential election with 11 days to go in the campaign, a pace that could lead to the highest voter turnout in over a century, according to data from the US Elections Project on Friday.

The eye-popping figure is a sign of intense interest in the contest between Republican Donald Trump and Joe Biden, his Democratic challenger, as well as Americans’ desire to reduce their risk of exposure to Covid-19, which has killed more than 221,000 people across the United States.

Many states have expanded in-person early voting and mail-in ballots ahead of election day on 3 November, as a safer way to vote during the coronavirus pandemic.

The high level of early voting has led Michael McDonald, the University of Florida professor who administers the US Elections Project, to predict a record turnout of about 150 million, representing 65% of eligible voters, the highest rate since 1908.

In Texas, the level of voting has already surpassed 70% of the total turnout in 2016. In Georgia, some have waited in line for more than 10 hours to cast their ballots. And Wisconsin has seen a record number of early votes, with 1.1 million people having returned their ballots as of this week. Voters in Virginia, Ohio and Georgia have also seen long lines at early voting sites.

Tonya Swain votes in Norwalk, California, while wearing a coat that mimics one worn by Melania Trump in 2018 which read, “I really don’t care. Do u?”
Tonya Swain votes in Norwalk, California, while wearing a coat that mimics one worn by Melania Trump in 2018 which read, ‘I really don’t care. Do u?’ Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP/Getty Images

The pandemic has upended campaign traditions and its effects are still being felt. Americans may find themselves waiting days or weeks to know who won as election officials count tens of millions of mail-in votes. Democrats are encouraging supporters to vote early – either in person or by mail – amid fears that the United States Postal Service (USPS) may not have the capacity to deliver mail-in ballots to election officials on time.

Ongoing Republican efforts to restrict which votes are counted and how have also worried voting rights advocates. This week, the supreme court allowed Alabama officials to ban curbside voting. The Iowa supreme court also upheld a Republican-backed law that could prevent election officials from sending thousands of mail-in ballots, by making it more difficult for auditors to correct voter applications with omitted information.

Michael Herron, a government professor at Dartmouth and Daniel A Smith, a political scientist at University of Florida, calculated that thousands of ballots in the swing states of Florida and North Carolina have been flagged for potential rejection due to signature defects. “Racial minorities and Democrats are disproportionately more likely to have cast mail ballots this election that face rejection,” they wrote in the media outlet the Conversation.

Trump and Biden met on Thursday night for a final debate ahead of election day, with Snap polls taken afterwards showing a majority of viewers believed Biden had the better showing.

Lagging in national polls, the president has been keeping a busy schedule of rallies, although with many voters having cast their ballots already, it’s unclear what effect the push will have.

On Friday, the president held events in the battleground state of Florida, where opinion polls show a tight race and over 4 million votes have already been cast, approaching half the total four years ago.

When Trump asked the crowd how many had voted, “nearly every hand” went up, reported NBC’s Shannon Pettypiece, who was at the event.

Boxes of vote-by-mail ballot envelopes await processing at the King county election headquarters in Renton, Washington.
Boxes of vote-by-mail ballot envelopes await processing at the King county election headquarters in Renton, Washington. Photograph: Ted S Warren/AP

Next week Trump will head to Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and, somewhat surprisingly, Nebraska. He won Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin by less than 1 point in 2016, and recent polls show Biden pulling several points ahead in the battleground states.

Biden, meanwhile, delivered a speech in his home state of Delaware on his plans for leading a recovery from the pandemic. Biden’s speech comes as the US has hit its highest single-day coronavirus case count since late July, reporting 71,671 new cases yesterday.

“This president still doesn’t have a plan,” Biden said. “He’s given up. He’s quit on you. He’s quit on America.”

Echoing his comments during Thursday night’s debate, Biden said he would not shut down the country in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m not going to shut down the country. I’m not going to shut down the economy. I’m going to shut down the virus,” Biden said in Wilmington.


Joan E Greve , Maanvi Singh and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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