As polling stations across the country begin to report turnout, there are signs that turnout in the 2020 elections will be the highest in 120 years since the 1900 election, when turnout was 73.7 percent.
The U.S. electorate was just over 239 million people before the November 3 election, according to the U.S. Election Project. 160 million people voted, so the turnout is expected to be 66.9 percent in 2020.
This would be higher than the 1960 election between Republican candidate Richard Nixon and Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy, when 63.8 percent of eligible voters cast their votes.
“This is not a typo,” tweeted Prof. Michael McDonald of the University of Florida and head of the Elect Project. “The 2020 presidential election had the highest turnout in 120 years. There are still many guesses about outstanding ballots that need to be counted. I will further refine these estimates in the coming weeks”.
The record turnout was recorded in 1876, when 81.8 percent of voters cast their votes. This election was held between the Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and the Democratic opponent Samuel Tilden. Neither won a majority, and after the House of Representatives appointed a commission, Hayes was awarded the presidency.
More than 195 million Americans would have had to cast their votes if this record had been broken. Although not technically impossible, it is highly unlikely that this number can be nearly reached. In the 1900 elections, a rematch between Republican President William McKinley and Democratic challenger William Jennings Bryan, 73.7 percent of the eligible voters cast their votes, according to the U.S. Elections Project.
Voter turnout remained relatively high at about 65 percent in the 1904 and 1908 elections. After that, the numbers declined for several years, until the 1960 elections between Nixon and Kennedy mentioned above.
In the following years, voter turnout fluctuated between 48 and 60 % of eligible voters. However, experts point to two main reasons for the massive increase expected in 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic and the growing enthusiasm of Americans for this year’s elections.
The pandemic has turned life upside down in many ways, including the way people cast their ballots. At least nine states sent a ballot to each registered voter before election day to encourage more people to take advantage of this opportunity, as many health officials consider it a safer way to vote.
Early voting has become an increasingly popular option over the years, with the previous record of 47 million pre-election day ballots in 2016, or 23.7 percent of the total number of votes cast, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Committee.
But for the first time in modern history, according to SA Today, more Americans are expected to vote early this year than on Election Day. The Bipartisan Policy Center estimated that 50 to 70 percent of all ballots cast this year will be absentee ballots.
Civic engagement in the run-up to the November 3 election has also increased. According to a Gallup poll published on October 30, 69 percent of registered voters said they would be more enthusiastic about voting in the 2020 election than in previous years. A 2016 Gallup poll asked voters the same question and found that only about half were more enthusiastic than in previous years.
At the national level, voters have already cast 73.3 percent of the total votes counted in the 2016 general election, according to the U.S. Elections Project. And at least 13 states have already exceeded 90 percent of the total turnout in 2016 through early voting alone.
First among these is Hawaii, where 110.6 percent of the 2016 turnout was achieved before the November 3 elections. This was not necessarily difficult to achieve – Hawaii had the worst turnout in 2016 with only 43.2 percent of the eligible voters. Texas and Washington ranked second and third, with 108.3 percent and 105.4 percent of their 2016 turnout being achieved before November 3.