2020 voter participation rate highest in over a century

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FILE – In this Aug. 20, 2020 file photo, postal workers load their mail delivery vehicles at the Panorama city post office in Los Angeles. The Nov. 3 election will test California’s commitment to voting by mail as the nation’s most populous state will offer fewer in-person polling places hoping it will convince more people to cast ballots from the safety of their mailboxes during a pandemic. If it doesn’t work, the state could see long lines and frustrated voters on Election Day compounded by coronavirus protocols that will make voting in person slower in a year expected to draw a big turnout. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — This past general election saw the highest voter turnout in decades, according to the United States Election Project. In an election year filled with tension over the coronavirus, unemployment, and a struggling economy, almost 67% of eligible voters cast their ballots.

Voters visited polling sites early, cast ballots by mail, or stood in long lines on Election Day in a presidential election with as of Thursday at 1 p.m., no declared winner. Increased voter turnout may answer the question researchers have been after- does making voting easier increase participation?

The 36-year average voter turnout rate for presidential election years between 1980 and 2016 was 56.7%. The lowest recorded voter turnout rate was in 1996 when little more than half of eligible voters took to the polls, 51.7%. In the 2016 election, the rate was 60.1%.

The last time voter turnout was close to this year’s percentage was in 1908 when 65.7% percent of eligible voters voted in the presidential election.

The voter turnout rate in 2016, when compared to 2020 in New York showed a similar trend with averages below the national average. Massachusetts and Vermont trends also stayed consistent with its averages above the national average.

The increase in voter participation in this year’s election could hinge on absentee ballots. No-excuse absentee ballot laws are present in 27 states. Absentee ballots account for nine percent of all votes in states without a no-excuse absentee ballot law on the books. In states where the law exists, the average percentage of absentee votes cast is 27%, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Election Lab.

The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit organization in Washington DC focused on public policy, gave each state a score for its vote-by-mail preparedness during the coronavirus pandemic. The institution scored states on things like whether or not every voter was sent an application for absentee ballots, if they required signatures and when they had to be returned to boards of elections.

New York, Massachusetts, and Vermont none of which have a no-excuse absentee ballot law all scored a “B”. Some states like California, Nevada, and Utah who have no-excuse absentee ballot laws all received an “A”, whereas other states like Ohio, Florida, and Arizona scored a “B” or a “C” despite having similar laws.

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