Brynn Anderson / AP
The early turnout continues to break records, as unprecedented voter enthusiasm responds to the realities of America’s creaking democratic machine in the midst of a pandemic. That means long lines in some places and administrative errors with some postal ballots, but a system that works overall, experts say.
“Despite some of these concerns, things are going quite well at this point,” said former Deputy Postmaster General Ronald Stroman, speaking specifically of the expansion of postal voting.
More than 26 million people voted by Saturday, according to the US Elections Project, a voter turnout tracking database maintained by University of Florida political scientist Michael McDonald. This is more than six times the number of votes cast by the same point in 2016.
While there are still more than two weeks until Election Day, here are some takeaways from the votes that have already been cast.
1. Democrats are coming in force
Poll data has shown for months that Democrats intended to vote sooner at much higher rates than Republicans, who were reacting to President Trump’s nearly constant false claims that postal voting would lead to widespread fraud.
We are now getting evidence of actual voting behavior that confirms these polls.
Democrats cast about 53% of the anticipated votes, according to predictive analytics from data firm TargetSmart, which uses voter data beyond party registration to project turnout trends. That’s compared to 36% by Republicans.
Early voters also tend to be older. Voters 50 or older make up more than 70% of the votes cast, according to TargetSmart analysis. Hundreds of thousands more young people voted at this point in October, compared to the 2016 election, but they still represent a smaller share of the overall total than then.
Notably, African-American voters represent a larger share of anticipated voters than in 2016. More than six times as many African-American voters voted at the start of the year than at the same time in the last presidential election. , according to TargetSmart.
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2. Confidence is on the decline
Trump’s rhetoric has also affected people’s confidence in the electoral process as Election Day approaches.
Overall, the share of registered voters who say elections in the United States will be well administered has declined significantly over the past two years, from 81% in October 2018 to 62% this year, according to a new poll from the United States. Pew Research Center.
The drop is due to Trump supporters, half of whom now say they don’t think the election will be well administered. More than half also say they believe the mail ballots will not be counted correctly.
These trends worry voting experts, who say confidence in the inner workings of an election mechanics is key to making the results accepted as legitimate.
“If a significant portion of the public doesn’t believe our election results are legitimate, then you literally have a divided country,” said Eddie Perez, election expert at the OSET Institute. “I don’t mean this rhetorically. You literally have a divided country where the issue of having a peaceful transfer of power is really a concern.”
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3. Long queues, technical problems in some neighborhoods
As early voting began in states like Georgia and Texas last week, long lines quickly formed at some polling stations, with some voters lining up for many hours before voting.
Computer problems played a big part in these delays, officials said.
In Georgia, Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the registration database used to register people for early voting was blocked by high traffic.
“If you look at the amount of information going around, it’s like everyone is hopping on I-285 in the morning, and sometimes you have to shift rush hour,” he said Wednesday, according to Stephen Fowler of Georgia Public Broadcasting. “Our suppliers have been working on this, along with our staff, to make sure we consider further optimizations, and we should probably be done with some by the end of this week.”
In Fort Bend County, Texas, a check-in machine issue has closed at least four ridings.
“I frankly think it’s a form of voter suppression,” a voter named Renee told Elizabeth Trovall of Houston Public Media, after standing in line to vote for nearly four hours. “There’s no way there was a problem on the first day of advance voting. No way.… I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Election officials and experts have been warning all summer that some in-person polling places are likely to experience longer queues this fall as jurisdictions have had to consolidate polling stations and recruit more poll workers. ballot.
Another factor: Social distancing efforts can make even relatively short lines appear much longer.
But lines have been the exception across the country on the whole, not the rule. And there is also optimism that ridings that have struggled with the lines will start to see them soften as early voting continues.
Gwinnett County, Georgia, for example, reported long waits last week in a number of ridings, but on Friday afternoon, the county’s online wait tracking showed no waits longer than 90 minutes. .
“A lot of people are very passionate about participating in this election,” Perez said. “And so it’s fitting that there is a lot of congested demand for people to go there right away and get their votes. The volumes you see on the very first day of early voting will likely decrease some, later in the day. the period. “
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4. No more mail, no more problems
States quickly ramped up their mail-in voting efforts to serve the 40% of voters who now say they plan to vote this way.
But an increase in usage also comes with a corresponding increase in administrative errors. Reports seemingly crop up daily of another batch of ballots that were sent to voters with some sort of error.
Last week, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, announced that the company responsible for printing and mailing the ballots had mistakenly sent nearly 29,000 voters the wrong ballots. Similar office problems last month plagued the mail-in ballots of thousands of voters in Ohio and New York.
“With just under three weeks, it is imperative that we make sure that our electoral system is one that voters can trust,” Allegheny County Chief Electoral Officer Dave Voye said on Wednesday, as the WESA’s Lucy Perkins reported. “It was a failure on our entrepreneur’s part and is impacting too many of our constituents.”
The county has added a search function to its website so voters can check if they are among those affected, and it will also send all voters new ballots.
Stroman, the former postal deputy minister who is now a senior member of the Democracy Fund, said it was important to remember that in all of these cases officials caught their mistakes with enough time to correct them. . Officials have also put in place safeguards to ensure that no one votes twice.
“I think at this point what we’re seeing are pretty much the normal mistakes, exacerbated by a global pandemic,” Stroman said.
Trump has sought to use these kinds of problems as proof that the entire postal voting system is flawed or fraudulent in one way or another.
But these kinds of problems happen in every election, says Kathleen Hale, an electoral administration expert at Auburn University, and they aren’t a sign of anything bad or broken.
“A significant part of the process is led by human beings,” Hale said. “And they’re not perfect.”