The climax of the presidential election is Election Day itself, but millions of Americans cast their votes before Nov. 8. While the number of early voters has traditionally been low, it has grown over the years. The question is, how many people voted early overall in 2016?
The number of early voters in 2000 was less than one in five, but this number was projected to double by 2016, NPR reported. Since more than 37 states and the District of Columbia allow some form of early voting, millions of Americans had the option to vote beforehand — and more than 46 million ended up doing so as of Nov. 7, according to the Independent. In the end, at least 47 million people voted early, Michael McDonald of Elect Project reported. This is a slightly higher figure than the 2012 election's 46 million early voters, but not by much.
As of Oct. 31, more than 22 million voters had already cast their ballots, according to the New York Times. And a larger percentage of these voters were Democrats rather than Republicans. Barry Burden, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor, told the New York Times that the reason for this has to do with campaign strategy. "This is largely because the Obama campaign emphasized the strategy of using early voting," Burden said. "The Clinton campaign has continued much of that effort. The Trump campaign is doing little by comparison." For this reason, the number of people voting early for Clinton over Trump was actually not much of an indicator of which candidate would end up winning the election.
Western states are more pre-disposed to early voting by mail than Eastern states, according to the New York Times. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have established universal vote-by-mail procedures. When the Colorado legislature passed a bill including mail-in voting in 2013, the state implemented same-day registration, the automatic mailing of ballots to all voters, and a real-time statewide voter database to prevent fraud, ThinkProgress reported. While proponents of voting by mail argue that it saves millions of dollars over time, others argue that it actually lowers the number of votes cast. A study conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that early voting may slightly reduce turnout, despite the increased convenience of being able to vote ahead of Election Day.
Interestingly enough, in some states it is possible for early voters to change their votes before Election Day. While rumors that states had changed their policies specifically to allow Americans to switch from voting for Clinton to a different candidate, these policies actually existed beforehand. For example, early voters in Minnesota can have their ballots cancelled up until one week before Election Day. They can then request a new mail-in ballot or vote in person.
Regardless of whether early voting actually reduces voter turnout, the fact remains that millions of Americans participated in it during this election, and the number may well be even higher by the next election cycle.