Millions of Americans are breaking voter-turnout records with three weeks to go before Election Day, with Democrats casting early ballots at a far higher rate than Republicans.
Concerns about the coronavirus pandemic have increased mail-in voting and led to unprecedented levels of early voting. More than 17 million voters have cast their ballot early, either in person or by mail, in states that report voting data, according to the University of Florida Elections Project.
As President Donald Trump and the Republican Party bet on Election Day in-person turnout, states that he won by a small margin in 2016 are seeing more Democrats voting early.
With 16 days of frenetic campaigning by Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden still ahead, many states allow early voting. This year, with enthusiasm running high, voters have already cast nearly 13% of the total votes counted in the 2016 general election.
Battleground states like Ohio and Georgia among others have already set records in voter turnout. In other critical states, such as Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin, early voting turnout has already reached 20% or more of the total turnout for the 2016 election.
In West Virginia, registered voters who want to cast their general election ballots in person early can do so beginning Wednesday, Oct. 21. Cabell County voters can vote from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Cabell County Courthouse in Huntington, Marshall University in Huntington and at Milton City Hall.
Early voting in West Virginia is available through Oct. 31.
Nationally, Democrats are significantly outpacing Republicans in early voting turnout in the 15 states that report party registration data, according to the Elections Project. Democrats have returned almost 2.5 million more ballots in those states than Republicans have. Meanwhile, Democrats have requested 9.7 million more ballots than Republicans.
The Republican Party said its supporters will make up the difference Nov. 3.
“The majority of our voters prefer to vote in person, especially on Election Day,” said RNC spokesman Mike Reed. “Campaigns are won by who turns out more voters in total, not by who turns out more in the first few days of voting. We don’t put much stock in the early vote data at this point, which is only from a handful of states and in some cases contains only partial data.”
Biden is leading Trump in surveys of voters nationwide and in the key states that could decide the Electoral College victory. The early turnout figures don’t necessarily indicate who will win the election, just the preferred method of voting by each party.
Data compiled by secretaries of state show that in Pennsylvania, a critical battleground that Trump won by 44,000 votes, almost 2.7 million ballots were requested — with 65% of the requests coming from Democrats and 24% from Republicans. Of the almost 518,000 voted ballots returned so far, 76% are from Democrats and 16% from Republicans, data shows.
“Voters are strapping on their masks, they’re bringing hand sanitizer, they’re bringing a book to wait in line and a stool and a snack and they’re going to show up to vote,” David Becker, executive director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, said on a call with reporters Thursday. “They’re going to do whatever they need to, and it’s probably on both sides of the partisan equation.”
Michigan and Wisconsin don’t report party registration data. But modeled data by TargetSmart showed that of the 44,000 first-time voters in Michigan, where Trump won narrowly in 2016, Democrats so far have an 8-point lead compared to Republicans. In Wisconsin, where Trump won by 23,000 votes, Democrats have a 5-point lead among the 57,000 first-time voters.
In Texas, a state where Trump is leading Biden, more than 1 million voters cast their ballots on the first day of early voting last week, according to the Houston Chronicle. Officials from Harris County, which includes Houston, said about 128,000 voters showed up to cast their ballots, nearly double the 67,741 on the first day of 2016.
Georgia, where the two nominees are tied, saw a record turnout on the first day of early voting Monday, with in-person turnout surging more than 40% above the previous record set in the 2016 election, the secretary of state announced. Over 128,590 voters cast ballots, compared to 90,688 on the first day of early voting in 2016.
But the surge in early voting also meant long lines and wait times. Pictures surfacing on social media showed voters in Georgia bringing chairs, snacks and phone battery chargers to polling places as they waited as long as 12 hours to cast their vote.
In Ohio, early voter turnout tripled from the voters that cast their ballots in the first week compared to the same time frame in 2016, according to the secretary of state. In Illinois, officials announced Thursday that the state shattered previous records in early voting with more than 790,962 ballots already cast, either via mail or in person.
The two parties have different messaging around voting amid the pandemic. Biden has urged supporters to vote early, while Trump has sought to raise concerns about mail-in voting being fraudulent.