Election Day is still eight days away, but early and absentee voting this year already has outstripped the pace of 2016, with more than 60million Americans having cast ballots so far.
The opening of early voting locations in Florida, Texas and other big states has piled millions of new votes on top of the mail ballots arriving at election offices as voters try to avoid crowded places on November 3 during the coronavirus pandemic.
The result is a total of 61.2million ballots cast so far, more than the 58 million that The Associated Press logged as being cast through the mail or at in-person early voting sites in 2016.
Democrats have continued to dominate the initial balloting, but Republicans are narrowing the gap. GOP voters have begun to show up at early in-person voting, a sign that many heeded President Donald Trump’s unfounded warnings about mail-voting fraud.
On October 15, Democrats registrants cast 51 per cent of all ballots reported, compared with 25 per cent from Republicans. On Monday, Democrats had a slightly smaller lead, 49 per cent to 28 per cent.
With eight days before Election Day, more people already have cast ballots in this year's presidential election than voted early or absentee in the 2016 race. People line up to cast their ballots shortly after sunrise during early voting session in Celebration, Florida, Sunday
A woman poses in a 'Surviving 2020' face mask as people line up in the rain to vote at an early site at Madison Square Gardens in Manhattan on Monday
The 2020 election could have the highest voter turnout in over a century with an estimated 150million Americans predicted to cast their vote for the next president. Voters stand in line to cast their ballots inside the Pip Moyer Recreation Center in Annapolis, Maryland, on Monday
A voter is assisted by a polling station clerk in PPE inside the Staples Center in Los Angeles on the first day of early voting on Saturday
So far more than 61million Americans have already cast their ballots as of Monday, with just eight days to go before November 3, according to the US Elections Project, with the most votes cast in Texas, California and Florida (colored dark-blue)
And 2020 is set to have the highest voter turnout since 1908 with an estimated 150million Americans predicted to cast their vote for the next president.
University of Florida professor Michael McDonald, who administers the US Elections Project, predicts a record turnout of 150 million citizens voting in the election, representing about 65 percent of eligible voters.
This year's high stakes race between Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden is projected to eclipse the voter turnout of 2016, when approximately 137 million people voted.
According to the US Elections Project, the most votes have been cast in Texas followed by California and Florida so far.
'The numbers are stunning,' McDonald wrote in a Sunday blog post. 'Nationally, the 2020 early vote is greater than 43% of all votes cast in the 2016 election. The pace of some states’ early voting is such that with almost certainty states will begin surpassing their total 2016 total vote this week.'
Some states have already reached more than 60 per cent of their 2016 voter turnout, including Texas with a whopping 80 percent, followed by Montana with just under 70 per cent, Georgia with nearly 65 per cent, North Carolina and Tennessee with 65 per cent each, New Mexico with just under 61 per cent with Hawaii with over 60 per cent.
The early vote totals, reported by state and local election officials and tracked by the AP, are an imperfect indicator of which party may be leading. The data only shows party registration, not which candidate voters support. Most GOP voters are expected to vote on Election Day.
Analysts said the still sizable Democratic turnout puts extra pressure on the Republican Party to push its voters out in the final week and, especially, on November 3. That's especially clear in closely contested states such as Florida, Nevada and North Carolina.
'This is a glass half-full, glass half-empty situation,' said John Couvillon, a Republican pollster who tracks early voting closely. 'They're showing up more,' he added, but 'Republicans need to rapidly narrow that gap.'
In Florida, for example, Democrats have outvoted Republicans by a 608,000 margin by mail, while Republicans only have a 254,000 edge in person. In Nevada, where Democrats usually dominate in-person early voting but the state decided to send a mail ballot to every voter this year, the GOP has a 45,600 voter edge in-person while Democrats have a nearly 100,000 advantage in mail ballots.
'At some point, Republicans have to vote,' said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist who tracks early voting on ElectProject.org. 'You can't force everyone through a vote center on Election Day. Are you going to expect all those Republicans to stand in line for eight hours?'
A woman in a mask casts a ballot at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which is used as a polling station, on the first day of early voting in New York on Saturday
People wait in line to vote at the Bohrer Park Activity Center on Monday in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Today marks the first day of early in-person voting in the state
People vote on the first day of early voting inside the Vote Center at Staples Center sports and entertainment arena in Los Angeles on Saturday
People wait in line to vote at the Montgomery County Executive Office Building on October 26, 2020 in Rockville, Maryland
Campaigns typically push their voters to cast ballots early so they can focus scarce resources chasing more marginal voters as the days tick down to Election Day. That usually saves them money on mailers and digital ads - something the cash-strapped Trump campaign would likely want - and minimizes the impact of late surprises that could change the race.
Trump's campaign has been pushing its voters to cast ballots early, but with limited success, delighting Democrats. 'We see the Trump campaign, the RNC (Republican National Committee) and their state parties urging Trump's supporters to vote by mail while the president's Twitter account says it's a fraud,' Tom Bonier, a Democratic data analyst, said on a recent call with reporters. 'The Twitter account is going to win every time.'
But Bonier warned that he does not expect a one-sided election. 'There are signs of Republicans being engaged,' he said. 'We do expect them to come out in very high numbers on Election Day.'
That split in voting behavior - Democrats voting early, Republicans on Election Day - has led some Democrats to worry about Trump declaring victory because early votes are counted last in Rust Belt battlegrounds. But they're counted swiftly in swing states such as Arizona, Florida and North Carolina, which may balance out which party seems ahead on election night.
Some of the record-setting turnout has led to long lines at early-vote locations and there have been occasional examples of voters receiving mail ballots that are incorrectly formatted.
In Georgia some people waited in line for more than 10 hours to cast their ballots, with similar sluggish lines reported in Virginia and Ohio.
In New York state, voters jammed polling places and stood in line for hours to cast ballots on the state's first day of early voting on Saturday.
People line up in the rain to vote at an early site at Madison Square Gardens on third day of early voting in New York on Monday
Voters cast ballots in person at Baltimore City Community College on Monday
Residents of Baltimore City line up to vote as early voting begins in the state of Maryland at Edmondson High School on Monday. In addition to the Presidential race, the congressional seat held by the late Rep. Elijah Cummings's (D-MD) is on the ballot with Kweisi Mfume (D-MD) running against GOP candidate, Kimberly Klacik (R-MD)
On a whole, voting has gone relatively smoothly.
With more than one-third of the 150 million ballots that experts predict will be cast in the election, there have been no armed confrontations at polling places or massive disenfranchisement that have worried election experts for months.
One sign of enthusiasm is the large number of new or infrequent voters who have already voted - 25% of the total cast, according to an AP analysis of data from the political data firm L2. Those voters are younger than a typical voter and less likely to be white. So far similar shares of them are registering Democratic and Republican.
They have helped contribute to enormous turnouts in states such as Georgia, where 26.3% of the people who've voted are new or infrequent voters, and Texas, which is expected to set turnout record and where 30.5% are new or infrequent voters.
The strong share of new and infrequent voters in the early vote is part of what leads analysts to predict more than 150 million total votes will be cast and possibly the highest turnout in a U.S. presidential election since 1908.
'There's a huge chunk of voters who didn't cast ballots in 2016,' Bonier said. 'They're the best sign of intensity at this point.'