Women wearing masks pose behind a voter registration table in Union Square in New York City.
  • At least 944,114 Americans have voted in the November presidential election by mail as of Sunday, according to data collected by Michael McDonald, a University of Florida professor who runs the US Election Project.
  • McDonald estimated that at the same point during the 2016 election cycle "only 9,525 people had voted."
  • McDonald's 2020 voting statistics came from early-voting data from 25 states. He said the true number of people who have voted may be higher because not every state releases complete early-voting data.
  • The setting of the 2020 election is a far cry from 2016: The Covid-19 pandemic is encouraging remote voting, and the concerns that the US Postal Service can't deliver votes in time has led to an early rush.
  • McDonald also said that an unprecedented number of people are voting because President Donald Trump "inspires passion unlike any other political figure."
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Close to 1 million Americans have already cast their votes in the 2020 election, compared to fewer than 10,000 votes cast by the same point during the 2016 election cycle.

In a blog post published Sunday by Michael McDonald, a University of Florida professor who runs the US Election Project, at least 944,114 people had sent their votes by mail as of Sunday.

By the same point in the 2016 election cycle, McDonald estimated, only 9,525 people had voted by mail.

According to McDonald's tracker, a total of 1,025,722 early ballots had been cast for the 2020 election as of Monday evening.

McDonald said his 2020 voting data comes from early-voting numbers published by 25 states. Many states do not make public comprehensive early-voting data, so McDonald said the true number of Americans who have already voted "is likely higher."

The lack of complete early-voting data from all states also means that the comparison between 2020 and 2016 should be treated with caution, McDonald said.

But the disparity is extraordinary, considering that the first presidential debate has not yet happened, and that 86 times more people have already voted compared to 2016.

McDonald said the large number of early votes at this stage indicates that the raw turnout for the 2020 election may be the largest in more than 100 years.  

"So far, the numbers are consistent with a highly engaged electorate. I've been projecting for some time that perhaps as many as 150 million people will vote in the November election, which would be the largest number in raw terms, and the highest turnout rate for those eligible to vote since 1908," he wrote.

There are several reasons why the 2020 election is markedly different from that held in 2016, which go some way to explaining the disparity in early votes.

The main contenders for the 2020 presidency: Former Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump.

Concerns that the US Postal Service is unable to process every mail-in ballot, while also burdened by the coronavirus pandemic, in time, has led to people giving their votes as early as possible to avoid them missing the cutoff point. 

In mid-August, the USPS warned in a letter to state authorities that "certain deadlines ... are incongruous with the Postal Service's delivery standards."

And, in a leaked recording, a top USPS official expressed concern that suppliers may not be able to print enough mail-in ballots for the election.

The current postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, has been criticized for dramatically slowing mail delivery times.

McDonald estimates that up to 70 million Americans requested mail-in ballots for the 2020 election. In 2016, 33 million Americans voted by mail.

Over the summer President Donald Trump also repeatedly cast doubt on the integrity of mail-in ballots, groundlessly claiming that the process is vulnerable to widespread fraud.

A USPS mailbox.

However, according to Politico, the Republican Party in Pennsylvania and Ohio have been pushing mail ballots to voters. "Vote Safe: By mail. From home," one GOP advert read.

The coronavirus pandemic has also seen many analog habits turn digital or become remote.

Voting is one of them, and facing long lines with social distancing, self-isolation, and face coverings, many people will decide to vote from home and moot the risk of catching the virus in a busy polling station.

McDonald also pointed out that that people are simply more interested in this election due to the Trump factor.

"The most likely explanation for this phenomenon is Donald Trump. Whether you love him or hate him, he inspires passion unlike any other political figure," he wrote.

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