For a wide variety of reasons, the U.S. election of 2020 will be one for the history books.
While the path of the presidential candidates to reach 270 electoral votes has been riddled with tension and confusion, one thing is clear: Voters showed up in droves to cast their ballots for this historic election.
In fact, preliminary numbers show that this year’s election had the highest voter turnout percentage in more than a century.
As of Nov. 4, NBC News projected that 159.8 million people cast their ballots in the 2020 election. There are about 239.2 million people who were eligible to vote this year, according to the United States Election Project. Based on these numbers, about 66.8% of eligible voters participated in the general election.
This is the highest voter turnout percentage since 1900 when 73.2% of the population cast their ballots for president, according to The American Presidency Project. That year, President William McKinley won reelection, with Theodore Roosevelt as his running mate.
The Differences Between 1900 And 2020
When looking at these voting numbers, it’s important to remember that they represent the percentage of total eligible voters. And there are some big differences between who is eligible to vote now compared to 120 years ago.
Women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920 with the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, so they were not part of the total numbers in that record-setting year. Also, the turn of the 20th century was long before the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was passed to help eliminate the suppression of Black Americans’ votes.
2020 Voting Totals Are Also The Highest Recorded
The election of 2020 is on track to have the highest recorded number of votes cast in any election since this kind of data has been tracked. With nearly 160 million votes counted so far, the voting totals for 2020 have well surpassed the 2016 record of 136.7 million votes.
A few factors likely played a role in higher voter turnout this year. First, early voter turnout more than doubled from 2016. In 2020, 99.7 million people participated in early voting by either going to the polls early in-person or voting by mail. This is nearly three-quarters the number of total votes cast in the whole 2016 election, according to The New York Times.
Another factor contributing to higher voter turnout is the number of young voters (ages 18 to 29) participating in this year’s election.
The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University’s Tisch College has provided regular social media updates on the young-voter trends as the election results trickle in.
On Nov. 4, the organization tweeted that 47-49% of all eligible young people cast a ballot in 11 battleground states this year.
NEW – YOUTH TURNOUT IN BATTLEGROUNDS: Our early estimate of aggregate youth turnout for 11 battleground states suggests that nearly half of all eligible young people (47-49%) cast ballots. In many of those states, Biden's youth advantage may be decisive. https://t.co/BkVQDVmfXJ
— CIRCLE (@CivicYouth) November 4, 2020
When all votes have officially been counted, this turnout percentage could rise to 51-53% across these states.
In comparison, CIRCLE has estimated that about 42-44% of youth — across the country — voted in the 2016 presidential election.
A Promising Trend
Across the U.S., more people are becoming engaged in the election process, which is promising because as of the 2016 election, the United States ranked 30th in voter turnout among developed countries.
The election of 2020 shows that more Americans are taking their civic responsibility seriously. The key to our electoral system is having as many eligible voters as possible engaged in the process so we can achieve a better representation of voices and opinions.