Avalanche of early votes is transforming the 2020 election

More than 17 million Americans have already cast ballots in the 2020 election, a record-shattering avalanche of early votes driven both by Democratic enthusiasm and a pandemic that has transformed the way the nation votes.

The total represents 12% of all the votes cast in the 2016 presidential election, even as eight states are not yet reporting their totals and voters still have more than two weeks to cast ballots.

Americans’ rush to vote is leading election experts to predict that a record 150 million votes may be cast and turnout rates could be higher than in any presidential election since 1908.

“It’s crazy,” said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist who has long tracked voting for his site ElectProject.org. McDonald’s analysis shows roughly 10 times as many people have voted compared with this point in 2016.

“We can be certain this will be a high-turnout election,” McDonald said.

So far the turnout has been lopsided, with Democrats outvoting Republicans by a 2-1 ratio in the 42 states included in The Associated Press count.

Republicans have been bracing themselves for this early Democratic advantage for months, as they’ve watched President Donald Trump rail against mail-in ballots and raise unfounded worries about fraud.

Polling, and now early voting, suggest the rhetoric has turned his party’s rank and file away from a method of voting that, traditionally, they dominated in the weeks before Election Day.

That gives Democrats a tactical advantage in the final stretch of the campaign. In many critical battleground states, Democrats have “banked” a chunk of their voters and can turn their time and money toward harder-to-find infrequent voters.

But it does not necessarily mean Democrats will lead in votes by the time ballots are counted. Both parties anticipate a swell of Republican votes on Election Day that could, in a matter of hours, dramatically shift the dynamic.

“The Republican numbers are going to pick up,” said John Couvillon, a GOP pollster who is tracking early voting. “The question is at what velocity, and when?”

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