And then there’s the other, subtler reason: A lot of voters appear to want to simply put this whole election behind them, casting ballots now just to be done with the whole thing.
The result is that more than 40 million ballots have already been cast in the United States, according to the United States Elections Project — nearly 3 for every 10 votes cast in total in the 2016 presidential race.
It’s tricky to read too much into those numbers. We don’t know, for example, if these are voters who otherwise wouldn’t have cast a ballot. In many states, we don’t know who these voters are, though in states with partisan breakdowns of returned ballots the majority are often from Democrats. This may be like 2016, in that a big surge in Election Day voting for Trump gives him the margins he needs.
But it’s bad news for Trump at least to the extent that all of these ballots have been cast as he trails in the polls by a significant margin. If the race changes dramatically in the next week, it won’t matter for those 40 million voters who’ve already weighed in, a group that will likely constitute at least a quarter of the total electorate.
In five states and Washington, D.C., more votes have been cast early than Trump got there in 2016 overall. Most of them are deep blue, so surpassing Trump’s total isn’t as big a marker as it might otherwise seem. But it’s also true in Texas, a state which has been surprisingly close in the polls and which Trump unequivocally must win if he’s to earn another four years in office.
In 10 states, we are able to compare the current number of early votes cast to the number cast at the same point in the 2016 race (that is, about two weeks before Election Day). In each state except Nevada, the number of early votes cast so far is up significantly.
In Georgia, the current number is about double where the state was two weeks before the 2016 election. In Wisconsin, 3.3 times as many votes have been cast relative to that point. In Ohio, it’s more than four times as many.
In these 10 states, the early vote is up an average of more than 136 percent relative to the same point in 2016 — more than double, on average. The number of votes cast is, on average, about 37 percent of the total votes cast in the last election.
Again, that’s more heavily a function of Democrats casting votes than Republicans, at least according to the five states for which we have data.
On average, the number of ballots returned by Democrats is more than double the number returned by the same point in 2016, while the number of Republican ballots returned is up only about 40 percent. Democrats have returned ballots (or voted early) in these five states equal to about a third of the total votes Hillary Clinton got in the states in 2016, while Republicans have returned ballots equivalent to a fifth of Trump’s totals.
Again, this may not mean anything more than Democrats are motivated to cast ballots by mail and to vote early. But it does mean that former vice president Joe Biden probably has a lot more ballots in the bank than does Trump.
Why does this matter? Well, consider the possibility that there is widespread turmoil on Election Day, problems at polls making it more difficult to vote. Or, more benignly, assume that bad weather arrives earlier in November than normal, making it harder for voters to get to the polls (or, at least, decreasing the urgency they feel about doing so).
Trump has made a big to-do about the primacy of voting in person. That means that he will almost certainly be starting the day trailing Biden by a wide margin, a margin that he needs to make up with a surge of Republican voters. The risk of that strategy is that the surge won’t be or can’t be the one he needs.