The 2020 presidential election is still more than six months away, but speculation about record-setting voter turnout is already starting to swirl. Increased participation, more absentee ballots, and enhanced election security could mean long lines at the polls or increased attention on early voting and absentee ballots.

Predictions for 2020 are largely based on record-setting numbers in the 2018 midterms, which saw the highest votee turnout rate in any midterm election since 1914, when women were not able to vote. 

According to the Census Bureau, 53.4 percent of eligible voters went to the polls in November 2018. Special elections in 2019 in Virginia and Kentucky also saw unusually high turnouts. 

All of these factors lead forecasters to predict a greater turnout than usual in 2020 as voters decide between President Trump and whomever his Democratic challenger will end up being. 

Michael McDonald, an elections expert at the University of Florida who runs the United States Election Project, predicts a voter turnout of 65 to 66 percent in 2020, according to U.S. News and World Report

If this prediction holds, it will be the highest since 1908, when turnout was 65.7%. Partisan polling organizations like the conservative Public Opinion Strategies and liberal group Catalyst are also projecting record or near-record turnout.

A high turnout is in the interest of both parties, who want to demonstrate a decisive win in November to solidify their position in the White House for the next four years. Experts predict that both parties will be working hard to get every potential voter to the polls, particularly those who have not voted in a while or are registered to vote but have never done so. 

These predictions come as states implement additional security measures to keep election data safe from foreign interference. There’s no documented evidence of election hacking in 2016, but even the threat of meddling has prompted states to add paper trails, audits, and other security measures, according to The Fulcrum.

The record turnout plus enhanced security could overwhelm local election officials and cause delays in reporting election results. In addition, more voters will likely opt for absentee ballots as a way to avoid long lines on Election Day, which could mean even longer waiting times for the final tallies.

Michigan, one of the coveted swing states in the election, is already bracing for such a scenario. 

“Due to the great increase in voting by mail, without a change in law, it is likely that clerks across the state won’t be able to finish counting ballots on election night,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told the Detroit Free Press.

To avoid such delays, Benson is pushing to give local election officials the ability to begin counting absentee ballots before Election Day. It’s unclear whether such a change will be passed by the state’s government before Michigan’s primary on March 10 or the general election in November.


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