U.S. early vote total crosses 50 million, signaling a record-smashing turnout

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – More than 50 million Americans have cast ballots in the presidential election, an early-voting expert said on Friday, signaling a potential record turnout out for a Nov. 3 matchup between President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participate in the final presidential debate at the Curb Event Center at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S., October 22, 2020. Chip Somodevilla/Pool via REUTERS

According to Michael McDonald of the University of Florida’s Elections Project, at least 50.95 million people had cast ballots in person or by mail 11 days before Election Day.

That is roughly one-third of the 150 million-plus ballots that McDonald and other experts predict could be cast this year. Some 137 million ballots were cast in the 2016 election.

The massive early-vote total gives the Republican Trump less leeway to change minds before voting concludes. Opinion polls show him trailing Biden, a Democrat, both nationally and in several battleground states that will decide who sits in the White House on Jan. 20, 2021.

Trump and Biden met for their second and final debate on Thursday night. Analysts gave Trump credit for a relatively restrained performance, but said it probably did not fundamentally change the dynamics of the race.

Trump, 74, will hold two rallies in the battleground state of Florida, where opinion polls show a tight race. Biden, 77, will deliver a speech in his home state of Delaware on his plans for leading a recovery from the pandemic.

Trump has frequently assailed absentee voting as unreliable, and his campaign has fought states’ efforts to expand a practice that analysts say is as secure as any other method.

Trump himself has voted by mail in past elections, but plans to vote in person in Florida on Saturday, the White House said.

Vice President Mike Pence cast his early-vote ballot in Indianapolis on Friday morning.

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Democrats have cast roughly 5 million more votes than Republicans so far, though their margin has shrunk in recent days, according to TargetSmart, a Democratic analytics firm.

The pandemic has upended campaign traditions. Americans may find themselves waiting days or weeks to know who won as election officials count tens of millions of mail-in votes.

BIDEN LEADS RACE FOR CASH

Biden enters the final days of the race with more cash than Trump. The Democrat raised about $130 million during the Oct. 1-14 period, about three times the roughly $44 million raised by the Republican Trump’s campaign, according to disclosures filed on Thursday with the Federal Election Commission.

In their debate, Biden renewed his frequent campaign-trail attacks on Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 221,000 people in the United States and cost millions their jobs.

“Anyone who’s responsible for that many deaths should not remain president of the United States of America,” Biden said.

Biden said Trump was too slow to warn the public about the severity of the pandemic and too quick to dismiss its threat, and had failed to develop a plan for recovery. Trump defended his handling of the health crisis, asserting the worst was over.

Biden’s COVID-19 speech in Delaware on Friday follows his promise to improve access to testing and listen to the advice of health officials and scientists, with whom Trump often feuds.

Biden has criticized Trump for returning to crowded public rallies, which usually feature little social distancing and few people wearing protective masks. Trump, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 in early October and spent three nights in the hospital, mocks Biden for his cautiousness.

FOCUS ON FLORIDA

Florida, Trump’s next stop on the campaign trail, is a must-win for the president and among the battleground states likely to decide the election.

Both candidates have showered attention on the state, where a Reuters/Ipsos poll this week found Biden moving into a slight lead after being in a statistical tie a week earlier.

Trump will begin his visit to Florida at the Villages, a sprawling retirement center in central Florida that is a hotbed of political activity and a regular stop for Republican candidates.

Polls have shown Trump, who won voters above the age of 65 by 17 percentage points in 2016, to be running even or trailing Biden with senior voters this year in the state, home to many retirees, a sign of possible trouble for the president.

In the evening, Trump will hold an airport rally in Pensacola in Florida’s heavily Republican northwestern panhandle, to urge supporters to vote early. Trump will spend the night in Florida before casting his vote in West Palm Beach.

Former President Barack Obama, with whom Biden served as vice president for eight years, will campaign in Florida on Saturday, Biden’s campaign said. Obama made his campaign-trail debut for Biden in Pennsylvania on Wednesday.

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