How Many Americans Are Registered To Vote? It's A Record, But We Can Do Better

Among the many questions that loom large in the 2016 general election is how many people will actually turn out to vote. Will widespread disenchantment with the major-party options drive a greater or fewer number of people to the polls to vote for their least-disliked candidate? It's a question that won't be answered until ballots are cast on Nov. 8, but we can get an idea by looking into how many Americans are registered to vote in the 2016 election. It's a record number, but that does not necessarily mean that the turnout rate will be.

Democratic political data firm TargetSmart collected registration data from states and reported to POLITICO that the number of registered voters hit a new record ahead of the general election topping 200 million people — 200,081,377 as of mid-October, to be exact. It's a 33 percent increase since 2008, POLITICO noted. Voter registration efforts and a very intense election season are probably contributing factors to the new record, but we also have to keep in mind that there are more people eligible to vote now than in the past. According to a New York Times analysis, there are currently about 221 million Americans of voting age who are eligible to vote (i.e., not ineligible felons or non-citizens). Census data from 2008 shows that there were 206 million citizens of voting age during that election.

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Given the larger population of voting-eligible and registered voters, we shouldn't be surprised if a record number of people in the United States vote in this election. But that does not necessarily mean that the turnout rate will be record-setting — that would depend on the percentage of the eligible population that actually casts their ballots.

If we make an estimate based on past data on primary turnout compared with general election turnout, we might suspect that the 2016 election will have a rate close to 2008, when more than 60 percent of the eligible population voted in November — the rate hasn't been that high since 1968. That year, 30.4 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in primaries — an unusually high number. This year, 28.5 percent did so. Then again, considering the fact that only 14 percent of eligible voters chose either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in the primaries, according to the New York Times analysis, perhaps our expectations should be tempered.

Heading into November, some 20 million eligible adults aren't registered to vote. There's still time to change that for residents of many states; check here for voter registration deadlines for all states. Why deny yourself the opportunity in case you decide you want to vote?