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A Surge in Early Voting May Not Mean Higher Voter Turnout

Voters are heading to the polls in record numbers to cast early ballots. But, that won't necessarily lead to higher turnout on Election Day.

Election officials are reporting an unprecedented spike in early voting, and some are hoping that all those in-person absentee ballots might mean a higher turnout of voters in the midterm elections.

But numbers compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project show that areas that logged high numbers of early voting back in 2016 didn’t necessarily end up with higher overall turnout. Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University says people casting early ballots is not predictive.

“Some of them may have voted on Election Day, and they were convinced to vote early. So they would be what we might say is the enthusiasm advantage vote. But most of that is just not the case. Most of that is banking votes as soon as you can bank them.”

Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington says lawmakers should get the hint.

“This is a reminder, once again, of what Virginians want. A lot of people clearly would like the idea of voting early, and if Virginia made it easier to vote early — say no excuses required early voting — there would be a number of grateful citizens for that.”

For now, you’ll have to give election officials an excuse to vote absentee— a heavy work schedule, for example. Or a concern that you might not get to cast a ballot because you’ll be stuck in traffic.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.
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