WASHINGTON: More than 13 million Americans have already cast their ballots for the 3 November US presidential election, according to the latest data by the US Elections Project, a University of Florida initiative, agencies reported.
The early voting this year is significantly higher than in 2016 when roughly 1.4 million Americans had cast their ballots by 16 October.As of Wednesday, voters across the country have cast a record 13,015,675 ballots either by mail or in-person voting. Out of this, about 6 million votes were cast by mail.
The US Elections Project, led by University of Florida professor Michael McDonald, is based on party registration data available in various states. Five states — Minnesota, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin — have already reached 20 per cent or more than their 2016 total vote.
This increase in early voting is also due to the pandemic that has forced many voters to opt for safer alternatives outside the polling booth.
American voters have the option to cast their ballots early either by mail or in-person voting at centralised polling stations. All US states have always had the mail-in voting facility but typically only under certain circumstances. It is how the elderly, military personnel and even US citizens overseas vote.
There are two ways of voting by mail — via an absentee ballot or mail-in ballot. An absentee ballot requires a voter to fill out an application, request a ballot and provide a reason as to why they cannot vote in-person. In some states, however, ballots are automatically mailed to every eligible voter without request or an application.
In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, many US states have changed their laws to make mail-in voting more accessible. In 34 states, voters can cast absentee ballots without specifying a reason and in seven, people still need a reason to vote absentee.In 2012, President Barack Obama became the first president to cast his ballot early.
Citizens can also physically cast their votes prior to the election day. Voting locations are usually available 27 days before the election. There was, however, criticism recently to long queues of people outside a polling booth in Georgia. Some people had to wait for over 10 hours to cast their ballots.
It is to note that the US Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has laid down guidelines for implementing social distancing and capacity restrictions at all polling booths.
In-person voting traditionally involved physical interaction between voters and poll workers. But due to Covid-19, officials have altered the layout and design of poll booths to ensure voters adhere to social distancing rules. The EAC has suggested establishing “a one-way flow through the voting location”.
In nine states and Washington DC, however, the authorities have directly mailed ballots to all voters.
Out of the six million mail ballots till Wednesday, 3,451,364 voters favoured Democrats and 1,402,515 Republicans. Though the trend has largely been driven by the Democrats, the study says that it was “very likely Republicans will show up in force to vote in-person” on 3 November.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has backed mail-in voting, calling on the US Congress to provide states money to allow voters to cast a ballot by mail amid the pandemic. US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, had said that mail-in voting will lead to widespread fraud. Last month, the White House also raised concerns about nine potentially discarded ballots at a county in Florida.
At a press briefing earlier this week, Margie Omero, principal at the polling firm GBAO Strategies, had said, “Even the method of voting now has become partisan…and it may be problematic in terms of how people accept the results of the election.”