Early Voting in the 2020 Election Surges Locally and Nationwide


Early voting in Virginia and across the country is surging amid the coronavirus pandemic and expanded early voting options in many states, evidenced by the long lines seen at the local polling location for early voting at the Fairfax County Government Center on Parker’s Lane.

With coronavirus cases continuing to rise across the country, many people are turning to early voting as a safer means of voting in the upcoming election. According to the US Elections Project, 45.7 million people have already voted early as of October 22nd. This figure is a third of the total turnout, including both in-person and early voting, of the 2016 election. The dramatic increase in early voting is even more evident when comparing these early voting numbers to 2016’s early voting data. In 2016, there were 47.2 million early votes in total, meaning 2020 has already reached nearly 97% of 2016’s total number of early votes with another 11 days to go until election day.

Locally, Virginia has experienced an even greater surge in early voting. 1.65 million early votes have been cast in Virginia as of October 22nd, according to the US Elections Project. That is already 41.6% of 2016’s total turnout, and this increase in early voting becomes even more significant when looking at Virginia’s 2016 early voting data. In that year, Virginia voters cast 541,000 early votes, meaning this year’s early voting numbers have more than tripled the number of total early votes from 2016. One cause of this dramatic increase in the state can be attributed to the Virginia legislature. In February of this year, the General Assembly passed a bill that allows no-excuse absentee voting for the first time in the state’s history, making it much easier to vote early.

West Po Senior Alison Cooke said of early voting, “I think that having early voting was a good idea, because it allows people to vote more safely during the pandemic and helps with overall voter turnout.”

Nationally, the coronavirus pandemic along with expanded early voting in many states has led to the surge in early voting displayed by the data. The ongoing pandemic creates cause for concern for many voters due to the health risks associated with being in close contact with others. Many voters have, therefore, decided to cast their ballot early as a safer method of exercising their right to vote. With the risks associated with voting in person, many states have expanded access to early voting in order to offer a safer alternative. Some states, like West Virginia, Missouri, and New York, now allow voting by mail with no excuse required. Other states, like Arizona, Wisconsin, and Maryland, now mail vote-by-mail applications to every registered voter, while states such as California and Nevada mail a ballot to every registered voter. Only five states: Indiana, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, and Tennessee, will not allow fear of the coronavirus as an excuse to vote by mail. All other states will allow voters to vote by mail with the excuse of fear of the coronavirus (if an excuse is needed for a given state). These new measures significantly expand access to early voting, making it easier for many Americans to cast their ballot before election day.

When it comes to early voting, Democrats are outvoting Republicans. According to available partisan data of early voting from the US Elections Project, 50.9% of all early voting ballots are from Democrats, while 26.6% are from Republicans, 21.9% are from Independent voters, and 0.6% are from Third Party voters. It is important to note that not all states release partisan early voting numbers, so not all early voters are represented in this data. Despite the Democrats’ lead in early voting, it is not a telltale sign of how the election will ultimately play out. A Democratic lead in early voting was expected heading into the election. According to a September poll conducted by the Washington Post/University of Maryland, 71% of Republicans said they preferred to vote in-person. Therefore, a large influx of votes from Republicans on election day itself is likely, which will even out the partisan disparity in voting that has happened so far.