- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 21, 2020

More than 42 million Americans have already voted in the 2020 elections — close to one-third of the total turnout in 2016 — as virtually all states have expanded early, absentee or vote-by-mail options because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Early returns show that Democrats are racking up an overall advantage in the early vote count — the same trend touted by the party in 2016 only to see President Trump overtake Democratic rival Hillary Clinton on Election Day.

“We have record numbers of people who are voting by mail, who are voting early and in person,” Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois, who heads House Democrats’ campaign arm, said Wednesday.

Still, Ms. Bustos cautioned that the public should steel itself for an extended count on and possibly after Election Day.

“Wait for those votes to all be counted before making predictions,” Ms. Bustos said, suggesting to reporters that people should “crack open a beer” on election night and avoid drawing too many conclusions from early returns. “Twitter can wait. Democracy needs to run its course and states need to count every vote.”

Of states where voters register by party, an estimated 52% of early voters so far are Democrats, compared to 26% who are Republicans, according to the United States Elections Project.

“The overall picture here is Democrats have a huge advantage right now with those voting,” said pollster John Couvillon, who has been closely tracking the early vote tallies. “The question is, to what extent can the in-person voting begin to gnaw away at that advantage?”

In 2016, 136.8 million people voted, according to the official tally from the Clerk of the House of Representatives. It’s estimated that more than 41% of the ballots were cast before Election Day.

Mr. Couvillon estimated that this year’s elections could see turnout of between 155 million and 165 million, with 90 million-100 million pre-Election Day votes.

Joseph R. Biden held a 3-point lead over President Trump among likely Iowa voters in a “high turnout” scenario, according to a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday. His lead expanded to 5 points in a “low turnout” model because of the overwhelming percentage of Democratic voters who have already returned their ballots.

“Republican campaigns face two challenges here. Not only do they need a bigger [get out the vote] effort on Election Day, but any breaking developments that could help them may be too late,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute.

The Trump campaign conceded that Democrats are generally winning the early vote battle, but they say the other side is not activating new voters.

“Democrats are largely cannibalizing Election Day voters and simply shifting their voters to vote earlier,” Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien told reporters recently. “To that, we say have at it — go for it.”

Mr. Trump said as of last weekend that the GOP was leading early voting in Michigan, a state that is crucial for his reelection prospects.

Republicans also have managed to eat away at Democrats’ voter registration advantages in key battlegrounds such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Florida — states where crossover voters might well have made the difference for Mr. Trump in 2016 anyway.

“You will get a good headline written about your activities [about] having more requesters, potentially voters you’re getting in the bank early, but there is no electoral impact on that strategy,” Mr. Stepien said. “That’s what we care about.”

Indeed, headlines four years ago blared that Mrs. Clinton was building a massive advantage over Mr. Trump among early and absentee voters, only to suffer a shocking defeat once all the votes were tabulated on election night.

Mr. Couvillon said 2020 is different in that the coronavirus is introducing variables and unknowns that weren’t there four years ago.

“If the Trump people are counting on a large Election Day turnout, you’re making a very major gamble there,” he said.

He said voting precincts must have reliable software and the capacity to handle what could be a record-breaking number of in-person voters.

“Given that the pandemic is starting to rear its ugly head again, the question is how many election workers could be sidelined because they’re quarantined?” he said.

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