There’s a whole lotta voting going on

An Illinois voter inserts his absentee ballot envelope into a locked ballot drop-off box. Boxes are emptied every night to keep absentee ballots secure. On this particular day of early voting, the container was completely filled by noon.

Have you voted yet? If you have, you’re like more than 47 million other Americans. And there’s still more than a week until Election Day.

All signs are that the number of votes cast in the 2020 general election on Nov. 3 will shatter previous records in modern-day elections, both in numbers and in percentages. Approximately 138 million Americans, or 55.5% of U.S. adults of voting age population, voted in 2016, which was roughly the same percentage as other recent elections, give or take a few percentage points. Almost 92 million eligible Americans did not vote in the 2016 presidential election.

That likely won’t be the case this year.

As of Oct. 22, more than 47 million Americans already had cast their ballots, either with an absentee ballot or through in-person early voting. That’s already 89% of 2016 early voting totals. The most thorough website with voting statistics, the U.S. Elections Project, is updated daily by election expert and University of Florida professor Michael McDonald to make timely election data available. Numbers are broken down by state, and totals are searchable. McDonald publishes a weekly analysis of all the early voting data, with details by state and by political party. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight estimates that the total turnout in the 2020 election could be about 154 million people.

The total U.S. population is estimated at about 331 million people. It’s hard to get a fix on the number of total registered voters, as some states were still accepting voter registration through October, and some allow registrations as late as Election Day. The civic champions of Maine have 77% of the state’s eligible adults registered to vote. And the civic champions of Minnesota have the highest voter turnout at 74%.

But voter registration growth may be lagging in 2020. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many voter registration efforts got bogged down. Fewer people visited state drivers’ license facilities, at which they also can register to vote. Many groups that regularly hold voter registration drives were limited in their outreach due to the necessity of social distancing. The Brennan Center for Justice found that voter registration has declined by an average of 38 percent in 17 of the 21 states the group analyzed, compared with 2016 registration rates.

Republicans are claiming superior numbers on new voter registrations, especially in some swing states such as Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, although new registrations were closing the gap with Democrats rather than surpassing them. And although Democratic voter registration plummeted during the early months of the pandemic, it surged during the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer. Several states, including battlegrounds like Texas, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, are approaching or passing voter registration records.

There’s no surprise as to why early voting numbers are so high. Many voters, fearful of the novel coronavirus, want to vote safely from home. Many early voters want their votes locked in and want to avoid what could be long lines on Election Day. The number of polling places has dropped by 20% nationwide, with nearly 21,000 fewer election sites than in 2012 and 2016, especially in California, Maryland, Kentucky, New Jersey, Nevada, and North Dakota.

I voted early, as I have for more than a decade, in general, primary, and municipal elections. Until this year, the longest I ever had to wait to vote was about 15 minutes. This year, the voting line stretched around the block, and I waited 90 minutes for the chance to cast my ballot. Even the line to drop off absentee ballots was about a dozen people.

Voting enthusiasm by both Democrats and Republicans seems to be through the roof, mainly because of the chance to vote against or for Donald Trump. A new Gallup Poll showed that 80% of Democrats and 75% of Republicans are “more enthusiastic than usual” about voting. Don’t forget that there was record turnout in the 2020 primary elections, with the biggest turnout surges by Democrats. And this was after the record turnout of 60% in the 2018 midterm elections. This year, 20% of the early ballots cast — so far — came from voters who did not vote in 2016. A Pew Research Center poll reported that 83% of registered voters said it “really matters” which presidential candidate wins this year.

President Barack Obama reminded everyone of the importance of voting in a barn-burner of a campaign speech in Philadelphia for Joe Biden, his vice president and the Democratic presidential nominee. As described by Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin:

Obama made clear that voting is not about making things perfect — just about making things better. And in a much-needed moment of uplift he declared: “America is a good and decent place. But we’ve just seen so much noise and nonsense that sometimes it’s hard for us to remember. Philadelphia, I’m asking you to remember what this country can be.” …

“We can’t be complacent. I don’t care about the polls. There were a whole bunch of polls last time. Didn’t work out. Because a whole bunch of folks stayed at home and got lazy and complacent. Not this time. Not in this election.”

Don’t stay home this time. Vote.

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