More than 45 million total ballots cast as of Thursday morning suggests a record turnout for this year's race compared to the 5.9 million ballots that were cast at a similar time in 2016, according to data from the United States Elections Project.
That number of early ballots cast so far represents 33.2% of the total national voter turnout in 2016, and the total number of ballots cast includes 32.8 million mail-in ballots and 12.9 million in-person ballots.
"The pace has dropped," said Elections Project founder and University of Florida political science professor Michael McDonald in an Oct. 18 blog post on the project website, "because last week the early vote ran about six-and-a-half times at the same point in 2016, whereas this week it is only a little less than five times the comparable 2016 point."
McDonald said the lower rate is due to two factors.
"First, it’s not like no one voted early in 2016. That was a record year for early voting, with about 40% of all votes cast early. We’re at 20% of the 2016 total vote as I write this," he wrote. "The ratio of 2020 early vote to 2016 early vote is going to come down simple because it is impossible that early voting is going to be six times what it was in 2016."
The other factor, he said, is that in-person early voting has begun in many states.
"There is a simple capacity issue," McDonald wrote. "In-person early voting is designed to spread out voting over several days, so in most states, there are fewer in-person polling locations than what election officials provide on Election Day. It is difficult, if not impossible, to process in one day six times the number of voters as in 2016. Still, we are seeing impressive in-person early voting with two-fold increases over 2016 in Georgia and Tennessee, Texas, and North Carolina."
Several states have already reached more than 50% of their 2016 voter turnout as of Wednesday, including Texas (65.5%), Montana (56%), New Jersey (50.4%), Vermont (53.4%) and North Carolina (51.1%).
Texas has seen the largest voter turnout so far; more than 5.8 million Texans have cast ballots so far. California and Florida trail just behind with 5.1 million and nearly 3.9 million ballots cast, respectively. North Carolina has already recorded 2.4 million ballots cast.
McDonald previously told Fox News that he "expected some things to be different since states changed their laws" to accommodate voters amid the pandemic. McDonald added that "70 million mail-in ballots [are] expected to go out to voters" ahead of Nov. 3.
"People did not have to take advantage of this," he said of mail-in ballots and early voting. But many people already have.
Ballot data is still unavailable in some states, including New York, Arkansas, Delaware and Missouri. California, however, has recorded the highest number of mail ballot requests at more than 21.6 million compared to Florida's 5.8 million as of Thursday. Voters in New Jersey have requested more than 6 million.
Democrats have requested 23.7 million ballots while Republicans have requested 13.4 million — a 10.3 million ballot request lead based on data from states reporting party registration including California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Flordia, Iowa, Maryland, Maine, North Carolina, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Utah.
Those ballot requests by party, however, may not be an accurate indicator of final election results, according to McDonald's frequently asked questions page on the Elections Project website.
"Just because registered Democrats are leading Republicans in early voting, that does not mean the Republicans will not make up ground on Election Day," McDonald wrote, adding that "registered Democrats typically lead Republicans during early voting, and Republicans vote on Election Day, a pattern that persists across many states and elections."
McDonald shared two possible scenarios for this year's voter outcome.
"The first is that many voters...have successfully flattened the curve on mail-in ballots, meaning election officials will be able to more accurately process ballots," he said. "The typical pattern is: We usually don’t see this rush at the beginning...early voting numbers are small and pick up closer to Election Day."
The second scenario, he said, is the U.S. "following a typical pattern, and as Election Day appears, we’ll see unprecedented [in-person] turnout for the election."
Colorado, Oregon, Washington, California, D.C., Hawai’i, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey and Utah sent mail-in ballots to every registered voter as an alternative to voting in person during the COVID-19 crisis.