Millions of Americans are breaking voter-turnout records with three weeks to go before Election Day and Democrats are casting early ballots at a far higher rate than Republicans.
Concerns about the coronavirus pandemic have increased mail-in voting and led to unprecedented levels of early ballots.
More than 17 million voters have cast their ballot early, either in person or by mail, in states that report voting data, according to the University of Florida Elections Project.
As President Donald Trump and the Republican Party bet on Election Day in-person turnout, states that he won by a small margin in 2016 are seeing more Democrats voting early.
With 18 days of frenetic campaigning by Mr Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden still ahead, many states allow early voting. This year, with enthusiasm running high, voters have already cast nearly 13pc of the total votes counted in the 2016 general election.
Battleground states like Ohio and Georgia, among others, have already set records in voter turnout. In other critical states, such as Florida, Michigan and Wisconsin, early voting turnout has already reached 20pc.
Democrats have returned almost 2.5 million more ballots in those states than Republicans have. Meanwhile, Democrats have requested 9.7 million more ballots than Republicans.
The Republican Party said its supporters will make up the difference on November 3.
“The majority of our voters prefer to vote in-person, especially on election day,” said Republican spokesman Mike Reed. “Campaigns are won by who turns out more voters in total, not by who turns out more in the first few days of voting. We don’t put much stock in the early vote data at this point, which is only from a handful of states and in some cases contains only partial data.”
Mr Biden is leading Mr Trump in surveys of voters nationwide and in the key states that could decide the Electoral College victory. The early turnout figures don’t necessarily indicate who will win the election, just the preferred method of voting by each party.
Data compiled by secretaries of state show that in Pennsylvania, a critical battleground that Mr Trump won by 44,000 votes, almost 2.7 million ballots were requested – with 65pc of the requests coming from Democrats and 24pc from Republicans.
Of the almost 518,000 voted ballots returned so far, 76pc are from Democrats and only 16pc from Republicans, data shows.
“Voters are strapping on their masks, they’re bringing hand sanitiser, they’re bringing a book to wait in line and a stool and a snack and they’re going to show up to vote,” David Becker, executive director and founder of the Centre for Election Innovation & Research, said on Thursday.
Michigan and Wisconsin don’t report party registration data. But modelled data showed that of the 44,000 first-time voters in Michigan, where Mr Trump won narrowly in 2016, Democrats have an eight-point lead on Republicans. In Wisconsin, where Mr Trump won by 23,000 votes, Democrats have a five-point lead among the 57,000 first-time voters.
In Texas, a state where Mr Trump is leading, more than one million voters cast their ballots on the first day of early voting this week, according to the Houston Chronicle. Officials from Harris County, which includes Houston, said about 128,000 voters showed up to cast their ballots, nearly double the 67,741 on the first day of 2016.
Georgia, where the two nominees are tied, saw a record turnout on the first day of early voting on Monday, with in-person turnout surging more than 40pc above the previous record set in the 2016 election, the secretary of state announced. Over 128,590 voters cast ballots, compared to 90,688 on the first day of early voting in 2016.
But the surge in early voting also meant long lines and wait times. Pictures surfacing on social media showed voters in Georgia bringing chairs, snacks and phone battery chargers to polling places as they waited as long as 12 hours to cast their vote.