Early Voting. What Impact Will It Have?

Published by Matt Fishman on

In the 2016 Presidential Election, 57.2 million people voted early, absentee or by mail. By the end of voting election day, roughly 137 million people had voted.

At this point in the 2020 Presidential Election, over 69.5 million people have already voted. Of the available party-affiliation data (data is not available for 30 states) Democrats amount to 16 million of these votes, Republicans nearly 10 million, and Independents 7.5 million .

In Texas, 7.8 million people have already voted, or 87% of total votes in the 2016 Election. Whereas only 5.5 million Texans voted early in the 2016 Election.

However in California, 8.6 million of 14.6 million total voters voted early in 2016, while thus far only 7.4 million Californians have voted. Similarly in Colorado, 2.7 million voters voted early in 2016, while thus far only 1.7 million Coloradans have voted.

Arizona has received 1.8 million ballots versus the 2 million early voting ballots received in 2016. 6.4 million votes have been cast early in Florida, on pace to exceed the 6.5 million counted in 2016.

So, can we interpret anything from early voting numbers?

Well looking at North Carolina in 2016, Hilary Clinton led Donald Trump by 2.5% or roughly 100,000 votes before election day. But on election day Donald Trump voters outvoted Hilary Clinton by 15.5%, and took North Carolina by 200,000 votes.

Early (mail or in-person)1,474,29647.1%1,552,20349.6%
Election day888,33555.1637,11339.5
Source: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/early-voting-was-a-misleading-indicator/

Further back one election in 2012, Barack Obama held 60% of North Carolina’s votes prior to election day, but Mitt Romney finished winning the state by 100,000 votes.

So while North Carolina, considered to be a crucial battleground state, is not indicative of the whole country, the relationship between early voting in a state and the final voting totals has historically been weak nationwide.

Closing Remarks

Early voting is coming in at a record pace. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, greater numbers of people are being pushed to early voting. It’s possible a record number of votes will be cast this election year. However, it’s also possible voter turnout on election day will be less than the increase in early voting. Therefore, the previously weak correlation between early voting share and final election results may be stronger this election.

We’ll find out one way or the other soon enough!