Election 2020 Voter Turnout 'at 67 Percent', Highest in 120 Years

As polling locations across the country begin reporting turnout numbers, signs are indicating that voter turnout in the 2020 election will be the highest seen in 120 years since the 1900 election, when turnout was 73.7 percent.

The voting-eligible population in the U.S. ahead of the November 3 election was just over 239 million people, according to the U.S. Elections Project, with 160 million people having voted, making 2020 turnout a predicted 66.9 percent.

This would put turnout above the 1960 election between Republican candidate Richard Nixon and Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy, when 63.8 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots.

"That is not a typo," Prof. Michael McDonald, of the University of Florida and head of the Elect Project tweeted. "The 2020 presidential election had the highest turnout rate in 120 years. There is still a fair amount of guesswork involving outstanding ballots to be counted. I will continue to refine these estimates over the coming weeks."

The record turnout was recorded in 1876, when 81.8 percent of voters cast their ballot. That election was between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democratic opponent Samuel Tilden. Neither won a majority and, after the House of Representatives set up a commission, Hayes was awarded the presidency.

More than 195 million Americans would have had to cast their ballots if that record was to be surpassed. Though not technically impossible, it is very unlikely to be close to this figure. In the 1900 election, a rematch between Republican President William McKinley and Democratic challenger William Jennings Bryan, 73.7 percent of the voting-eligible population cast ballots, according to the U.S. Elections Project.

Voter turnout stayed relatively high in the 1904 and 1908 elections, around 65 percent. Numbers then dipped for several years, until the 1960 election between Nixon and Kennedy mentioned above.

In the years since, turnout has hovered anywhere from 48 to 60 percent of eligible voters. But pundits point to two primary reasons for the massive increase anticipated for 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic and increased enthusiasm among Americans for this year's election.

The pandemic has upended life in so many ways, including how people are casting their ballots. At least nine states mailed a ballot to every registered voter before Election Day as a way to encourage more people to use the option, as many health officials see it as a safer way to vote.

Early voting has become an increasingly popular option over the years, with the previous record being reached in 2016 with 47 million ballots cast before Election Day, or 23.7 percent of the total number of votes cast, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

But for the first time in modern history, more Americans are anticipated to vote early than on Election Day this year, according to according to SA Today. The Bipartisan Policy Center estimated that 50 to 70 percent of all ballots cast this year will be absentee ballots.

Civic engagement ahead of the November 3 election has also increased. According to a Gallup poll released on October 30, 69 percent of registered voters said they are more enthusiastic to vote in the 2020 election compared to years past. A 2016 Gallup poll asked voters the same question, finding that only about half felt more enthusiasm than in years past.

Voting stickers
More "I Voted" stickers will have been needed than any time in living memory. Ethan Miller/Getty

Nationally, voters have already cast 73.3 percent of total votes counted in the 2016 general election, according to the U.S. Elections Project. And at least 13 states have already surpassed 90 percent of total turnout in 2016 by early votes alone.

Hawaii is in first place, with 110.6 percent of its 2016 voter turnout being reached ahead of the November 3 election. This wasn't necessarily difficult to achieve—Hawaii had the worst voter turnout in 2016, with only 43.2 percent of its eligible population casting a ballot. Texas and Washington came in second and third places, with 108.3 percent and 105.4 percent of their 2016 turnouts having already been reached before November 3.