Breaking Trends on Election Day

Early Voting and Mail Voting Totals Surpass 2018, Possibly Indicating Record Midterm Turnout

According to the latest numbers from the U.S. Elections Project, early voting totals in 2022 (which include both in-person early voting and mail voting) have surpassed the totals from the 2018 midterm by over 5 million votes. At least 44.2 million early votes had been cast as of Monday, compared to 39 million in 2018. This increase is being driven by record early turnout in states like Georgia, which set a new record of over 2.5 million early votes already cast. This is far more than the 1.8 million early votes in 2018 and just 100,000 fewer than the 2.6 million cast in the 2020 presidential election.

These early voting trends suggest that the overall voter turnout in the 2022 midterm election could surpass the modern midterm record set in 2018, when 49% of eligible voters cast ballots. This comes on the heels of the highest total number of voters ever turning out in the 2020 election, when 66.8% of eligible voters cast ballots in the presidential election. See our Democracy Map below for more information on 2020 voter turnout percentages by state.

It is important to note that increased turnout in states like Georgia does not mean that restrictive laws have no impact; while the early voting totals in the state are high, the number of mail ballots cast has decreased by half as compared to 2020. In the past two years, Georgia passed laws that significantly restrict access to voting by mail including severe restrictions on ballot drop boxes, strict ID requirements to vote by mail, shortening the period to apply for a mail ballot, and banning mobile voting centers. All of these policies have a disproportionate impact on Black voters and Asian American voters.

Increased Federal Election Monitoring in Key States Amid a Rise in Political Violence and Voter Intimidation

Leading up to Election Day, reports of voter intimidation have already been raised in multiple states. Last week, a federal judge in Arizona issued a restraining order to stop armed vigilantes from staking out ballot drop boxes. The ruling prevents the groups from being armed and confronting or photographing voters, among other restrictions. Additional reports of potential voter intimidation have also come in from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and elsewhere around the country. On Monday, the N.A.A.C.P. filed suit against the city of Beaumont, Texas, alleging that poll workers intimidated and discriminated against Black voters during the early voting period. The city of Beaumont has a majority Black population according to the 2020 census.

In the midst of this volatile environment, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is sending federal monitors to the polls in 64 jurisdictions in 24 states; in 2020 DOJ sent monitors to 44 jurisdictions in 18 states. Among the jurisdictions that will be monitored is Maricopa County in Arizona, which has been a hotbed of voter intimidation at ballot drop boxes.

DOJ sending monitors is a standard practice during every election. DOJ has the authority to ensure that states and counties comply with federal voting rights laws and the role of the federal monitors is to ensure that voters can cast their ballot without fear of harassment or violence.

However, not all states subject to federal monitoring have been compliant with the DOJ, and several are inappropriately resisting the monitoring. In Missouri, officials in Cole County have indicated they will not allow federal monitors at the polls. Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft released a statement inaccurately saying that it would be “highly inappropriate for federal agents to violate the law by intimidating Missouri voters at the polls on Election Day.”

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis also inappropriately pushed back against federal monitoring, saying it would be “counterproductive,” and that the state planned to send its own monitors instead. Meanwhile, Gov. DeSantis has threatened citizens throughout the state with prosecution if they accidentally vote without being legally eligible — even if their eligibility has been erroneously confirmed by an election official. These threats have caused many eligible voters to hesitate to vote because of fear of jail time if they make a mistake.

Our democracy is under threat when voters cannot cast their ballot without fear of arrest, harassment or violence. When voters are intimidated and made to feel afraid, they won’t vote. MAP’s report Threatening Democracy: Voter Intimidation in the U.S. outlines historical and current ways that voter intimidation has been deliberately used to keep voters from the polls — and what can be done to stop it.

Ultimately, voter intimidation should concern everyone who believes in a fair and free democracy. But what’s even more concerning is that the rising tide of voter intimidation is actually often being coordinated by politicians who resist federal efforts to stop the intimidation because they would rather win at any cost than uphold democracy. What we see in this midterm must inform what legislatures do next year to protect our democracy.

As voters continue to cast their ballots through tonight and the wait for results begins, the good news today is that early indicators point to potential record turnout for a midterm election. Voters are motivated by the gravity of the issues at stake in this election, including abortion access and the health of our democracy itself. Unfortunately, we are also seeing a rise in voter intimidation and efforts by Republican officials to resist federal oversight of elections. As the week unfolds and new developments arise, our daily briefings will cover the key issues to watch this election.

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Democracy Maps

Democracy Maps

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Democracy Maps tracks more than 40 laws and policies on elections and voting. Project of Movement Advancement Project, an independent, nonprofit think tank.