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Almost A Million Ballots Already Cast In 2020 Presidential Election


Almost a million - that is the number of ballots already cast for the 2020 presidential election as of this past weekend. Four years ago at this time, that number was just shy of 10,000. That's according to the U.S. Elections Project, a site that tracks voting data. So what are the reasons behind this 100-fold increase in early voting? Is it the pandemic, a summer of racial unrest, Supreme Court nominees or all the above? Well, to help us answer that question, we're joined by Michael McDonald. He's director of the U.S. Elections Project and a professor at the University of Florida.


MICHAEL MCDONALD: Great to be with you.

CHANG: So as we just said, roughly a million votes have already been cast in this 2020 election according to your analysis. What do we know about who these early voters are?

MCDONALD: Well, first of all, the million votes is unprecedented in American politics. We've never seen this number of people cast ballots so early in the election. There are three driving factors here. One is simply that states have relaxed their laws. Maybe it was through changes that were already in place or as an emergency for the pandemic. And in the latter case, we've seen many people requesting mail ballots and voting in-person early in order to socially distance. The other big factor, though, that's going on here is that there are lots of people who really are enthused to vote, and they're casting their ballots early. They also tend to be Democrats.

CHANG: Interesting.

MCDONALD: When we look at states that are providing breakdowns of their early voters by party registration, we see a lopsided advantage for the Democratic Party.

CHANG: And how lopsided is that advantage so far?

MCDONALD: There's about a 2-to-1 advantage that the Democrats have over the Republicans in either the ballots that have been requested or the ballots that have actually been cast.

CHANG: OK. And in elections past, have early voters always tended to be Democrats, or do you see something unusual about the Democratic advantage in terms of early voting this election?

MCDONALD: In the past, mail balloters have tended to be Republican. So it's very unusual to see these big advantages for the Democrats in mail ballots.

CHANG: And any indication of what is motivating so many people to vote early this year?

MCDONALD: Well, most likely, it has to do with Donald Trump. We had, in 2018, the highest turnout rate for midterm elections since 1914. And just four years earlier in 2014, we'd had the lowest turnout rate since 1942. So we went from one of the lowest to the highest midterm turnouts in that period of time of four years, and the only change was Donald Trump.

CHANG: You have already projected that as many as 150 million people will be voting in this November election, which would be the largest turnout since 1908. Tell us; how did you figure that prediction out? Like, how did these early voting numbers buttress a projection like 150 million people?

MCDONALD: Well, if we look at all of the activity that's happened up till this point, the participation sometimes hit modern record levels for midterm or special elections or state elections and small-donor activity and what people are telling pollsters in terms of their interest in politics and their likelihood to vote. Everything is running at record levels. And there's nothing that we're seeing right now in terms of this very energized electorate where over a million people have already voted to suggest that turnout's going to crater for some reason. We look to be highly engaged, and early voting numbers seem to support that notion.

CHANG: Michael McDonald is the director of the United States Election Project (ph).

Thank you very much for joining our show today.

MCDONALD: Great to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.