Early voting numbers continue to surge, on track for historic turnout

With less than one week until Election Day, more than 73 million people have already voted nationwide, surpassing 2016's early voting totals. 

It's also more than half of the total turnout in 2016. In California, Political Data Inc.'s ballot tracker shows around 8 million mail-in-ballots have already been returned.  

“We’re in uncharted waters in terms of having this many early ballots come in," said PDI's vice president Paul Mitchell.  "The reality though is right around at 36-37% turnout right now, we still have a long way to go.”

Mitchell says the early returns are heavily titled towards registered Democrats, but he cautions against drawing too much from those numbers.  

“Strong expectation there’s going to be an electorate that comes on Election Day, to vote in person," said Mitchell. "And based on the data, showing really skewed Democratic turnout early, we’re expecting heavy Republican turnout late.”

That trend is likely the result of some of the rhetoric around this election. The latest Berkeley IGS poll shows that despite California's long historyh of vote-by-mail: 46% of people say they're less confident their vote will be counted if its mailed, than if they vote in person.  78% of President Trump supporters polled feel this way compared to 32% of Joe Biden supporters.  

“Republicans are just distrustful of absentee ballot voting in this election—due to the president’s rhetoric, that’s really a departure," said Professor Eric Schickler, co-director of the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies. "Republicans voted absentee in large numbers in past elections, in California and elsewhere.”

Looking at the trends across the country, Schickler and Mitchell point to a surge in young voters, ages 18-29. In several states, they've dwarfed their 2016 early voting numbers. 

“There’s evidence of heightened enthusiasm amongst younger voters, and I think there’s been a real concerted push to get them to vote early," said Schickler. 

“We might essentially be turning the corner into seeing real turnout from unlikely voters which is what you have to have to actually get a surge," said Mitchell.  

Schickler says another key demographic to watch is the LatinX community in states like Texas and Arizona and how they could impact the presidential contest. And of course, keeping a close eye on crucial swing states in the Midwest.

“Pennsylvania, Michigan Wisconsin: one of the key things is whether Biden can keep Trump’s margins down with these non-college educated white voters," said Schickler. "Trump ran massive margins up with those voters in 2016.”

Voting data experts say one thing to keep in mind as results are released on election night: we're likely to see large shifts based on how partisan the numbers are between early voting and those who plan to vote on November 3. Their advice: be patient.