This nail-biter election generated the highest U.S. voter turnout rate in 120 years
As Americans woke up on Wednesday morning to see that the winner of the nail-biter of an election might not be known for days, they could take solace in at least one fact: The 2020 election drew the highest voter turnout in more than a century.
According to the nonpartisan site the U.S. Elections Project, run by University of Florida professor Michael McDonald, some 160 million votes were cast in the election that has pit President Trump against the Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden. That equates to a turnout rate of 66.9% of eligible voters, reflecting the high stakes many voters saw in the vote. And there are still many uncounted ballots.
As of Wednesday morning, Biden had won 238 of the 270 Electoral College votes a candidate needs to claim victory, to Trump’s 213, according to the Associated Press. Delegate-rich battleground states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania were still counting votes.
The record number of votes compares to some 139 million cast in 2016, when Trump emerged victorious despite losing the popular vote to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Four years ago, some 60.1% of voters turned out.
The highest turnout rate before 2020 was in 1900, when it hit 73.7%. But as many were quick to mention in response to McDonald’s tweet, rates from that era aren’t truly comparable to today’s. Women did not yet have the right to vote then, for example, and it was well before the 1965 Voting Rights Act sought to combat suppression of Black Americans’ votes.
The high 2020 numbers had already been telegraphed by heavy early voting and mail-in votes. About 64.6 million mail ballots had been returned on Tuesday morning, and another 36 million Americans voted early at the polls, according to the U.S. Elections Project.
Turnout was also bolstered by young Americans voting in far greater numbers than they traditionally have. According to Tufts University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, early voters between the ages of 18 and 29 represented a far bigger chunk of turnout this year compared to four years ago. For instance, in Texas, they represented 13.1% of early votes, up from 6%, and in swing state Michigan, young voters made up 9.4%, up from 2.5% last time around.