November 02, 2020

More than 91.6 million Americans have already voted in this week’s presidential election

More than 91.6 million Americans have already voted in this week’s presidential election

Three days prior to election day, pre-election voting in the US surpassed two-thirds of all ballots cast during the 2016 presidential election.

A majority of US states are reporting record early voting turnout, suggesting a high level of interest in voting this year, despite the added challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a survey of election officials in all 50 states and Washington, DC, by CNN, Edison Research, and Catalist, these votes represent about 43% of registered voters nationwide. The 91.6 million ballots already cast represent about 67% of the 136.5 million ballots cast in 2016.

The French government was one of the first to be confronted with the difficult choice of whether to hold elections amidst the Covid-19 pandemic during its municipal elections in mid-March, in the early phases of the pandemic.

Concerns about the pandemic led to a historically unprecedented level of abstention. Voter turnout was just 44.6%, almost 20 percentage points below the level recorded in the first round of municipal elections in 2014. More than 50% of those who didn’t vote mentioned fear of the pandemic as one reason behind their abstention.

IZA World of Labor author Simone Bertoli and colleagues analyzed the relationship between municipal-level mortality and voter turnout in France. Their estimates reveal that subsequent mortality was significantly higher in municipalities where a more intense electoral competition induced a higher voter turnout. 

Bertoli et al. warn in their IZA World of Labor commentary piece that “[g]overnments should be extremely cautious about maintaining elections during a pandemic. Going ahead with an election can accelerate the diffusion of the pandemic and increase mortality.” However, they also note that “cancelling an election raises major questions about the legitimacy of a democracy; and even postponing an election raises similar questions.”

The US’s high early voting numbers come amid the ongoing pandemic (America has so far counted 9.28 million cases and 231,000 deaths). Many states have extended their early voting period and increased access to mail-in voting to avoid the negative consequences associated with holding an election during a pandemic. Supporters of Democratic nominee Joe Biden have shown a strong preference for mail-in voting, while incumbent President Donald Trump’s supporters say they want to vote on the day.

Find more IZA World of Labor coronavirus content on our curated topics pages: National responses to Covid-19 and Covid-19—Pandemics and the labor market.