Signs of midterm enthusiasm in flood of early voting

More than two weeks before the midterm elections, voters are showing up to the polls in droves as signs mount that an enthusiastic electorate is set to break turnout records.
Signs showing the way for voters stands outside a Cobb County voting building during the first day of early voting, Monday, Oct. 17, 2022, in Marietta, Ga. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

More than two weeks before the midterm elections, voters are showing up to the polls in droves as signs mount that an enthusiastic electorate is set to break turnout records.

More than 268,000 Georgia voters cast ballots in the first two days of early voting, a 75% increase over the same period during the 2018 midterm elections — and higher, even, than the number of voters who cast a ballot over the first two days of early voting during the presidential election in 2020.

“We’re extremely pleased that so many Georgians are able to cast their votes, in record numbers and without any reports of substantial delays,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) said in a statement.

In Michigan, more than 1.7 million voters have requested absentee ballots, almost double the number that did so four years ago. A quarter of those who have asked for ballots have already returned them — so many that election officials warned they might have trouble tabulating them on Election Day.

More than 837,000 voters have returned their ballots in Florida, which is about one in five of the 4.2 million absentee ballots that have been requested, according to data maintained by the United States Election Project, a program run by University of Florida political scientist Michael McDonald.

And in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) campaign strategists said they expected turnout to reach as high as 10.6 million voters, well above the 8.4 million cast when Abbott sought his current term in 2018.

“As early in-person voting begins in several states this week, and mail voting continues across the country, most indicators are pointing to a very engaged electorate,” said Tom Bonier, a Democratic strategist who tracks the early vote. “Turnout in the 2018 midterms was the highest in over a century, and there’s reason to believe, based on what we’re seeing in early turnout, that 2022 could exceed that benchmark.”

Nationally, about 2.25 million people have already voted this year, according to McDonald’s data. Democrats have outpaced Republicans in returning their ballots by about half a million votes in states that allow voters to register by party — but strategists in both parties cautioned against reading too much into what are still preliminary results.

There is no national pattern to the way voters cast ballots. In some states, Democratic voters tend to vote by mail while Republicans show up to vote early. In others, the pattern is reversed.

But the results likely foretell a midterm election that will feature the highest turnout in more than a century. McDonald compared the potential turnout to a previous zenith in 1914, before half the modern American electorate — women — even had the right to vote.

Even before the polls opened and the ballots went out, voters were showing signs of heightened enthusiasm. A recent NBC News poll found 64% of voters said they were very likely to vote, rating themselves as 9s or 10s on a 1-to-10 scale. That figure is 6 points higher than in 2018, and more than 10 points higher than just before the 2014 and 2010 midterm elections.

“If you thought this was going to be a low turnout election, there’s no evidence to this point that it’s going to be a low turnout election,” McDonald said in an interview. “This is probably going to sustain itself through Election Day.”