Early Voting Analysis: Historic Turnout Drives Long Lines, Administrative Errors

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People wait in line to vote early at the State Farm Arena on Monday, in Atlanta.

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Brynn Anderson/AP


2020 Election: Secure Your Vote
Fewer People May Vote By Mail Than Expected. That Could Mean Election Day ‘Chaos’

We’re now getting evidence from actual voting behavior confirming those polls.

Democrats have cast about 53% of the early votes, according to predictive analysis by the data firm TargetSmart which uses voter data beyond party registration to project turnout trends, compared to 36% by Republicans.

The early voters also tend to trend older. Voters 50 years old or older make up more than 70% of the votes cast according to the TargetSmart analysis. Hundreds of thousands more young people have voted at this point in October, compared to the 2016 election, but they still make up a lower share of the overall total than they did then.

Notably, African-American voters make up a larger share of early voters than in 2016. More than six times as many African-American voters have voted early than had at the same point in the last presidential election, according to Targetsmart’s analysis.

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Poll workers assist a voter at the Spectrum Center, during the first day of early voting in Charlotte, North Carolina, on October 15, 2020.

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People wait in line to cast their vote during early voting at City Hall in Philadelphia on Oct. 7, 2020.

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An election worker sorts a box of mail ballots in Doral, Fla. on Oct. 15, 2020.

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An election worker sorts a box of mail ballots in Doral, Fla. on Oct. 15, 2020.

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More mail, more problems

States have rapidly scaled up their vote-by-mail efforts to serve the 40% of voters who now say they plan to vote that way.

But with an increase in usage, also comes a corresponding increase in administrative errors. Reports are cropping up seemingly daily of another batch of ballots that went out to voters with some sort of mistake.

Last week, Allegheny County, Penn. announced that the company in charge of printing and mailing ballots mistakenly sent nearly 29,000 voters the wrong ballots. Last month, similar clerical issues affected the mail ballots of thousands of voters in Ohio and New York.

«With a little under three weeks to go, it’s imperative that we ensure that our elections system is one that voters can trust,» said Allegheny County Elections manager Dave Voye on Wednesday, as WESA’s Lucy Perkins reported. «This was a failure on behalf of our contractor and impacts too many of our voters.»

The county added a search function on its website so voters can check whether they were one of those affected, and it will also send all the voters new ballots.

Stroman, the former deputy postmaster general, who is now a senior fellow at the Democracy Fund, said it’s important to remember that in all these instances, officials caught their errors with enough time to fix them. Officials also have safeguards in place to make sure no one votes twice.

«I think to this point, what we’re seeing are pretty much the normal mistakes, exacerbated by a global pandemic,» Stroman said.

President Trump has sought to use these sorts of problems as evidence that the entire system of voting by mail is flawed or fraudulent in some way.

But these sorts of issues happen every election, says Kathleen Hale, an election administration expert at Auburn University, and they aren’t the sign of anything nefarious or broken.

«A significant portion of the process is conducted by human beings,» Hale said. «And they’re not perfect.»

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