Nearly 60 million people have cast early votes in the 2020 US presidential elections, AFP reported on Sunday, citing data from the independent US Election Project, run by the University of Florida. The number is already higher than the 57 million who voted early or by mail in 2016, according to the US Election Assistance Commission website, AFP reported.

The increase in early voting numbers can be seen as a direct result of the voters being wary of crowded polling booths amid the coronavirus pandemic. But experts are looking at political reasons too.

“The pandemic is part of it, particularly for older voters,” Larry Sabato, Founder and Director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told The Guardian, adding that people realise the importance of this election. “But to me, that doesn’t explain the lines. People really have bought into the understanding that if this isn’t the most important election we’ve ever had, it’s one of several.”

The early voting numbers are also an indicator of a high overall turnout. The Election Project has predicted that turnout this year could top 150 million in total. Some 137 million ballots were cast in the 2016 election.

Encouraging sign for Democrats

According to AFP, so far Democrats have been leading the way in early voting but it remains to be seen whether the trend remains encouraging for its presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Data from the US Election Project shows that more than one-third of the early votes have been cast in the three most populous states of Texas, California and Florida.

According to The Guardian, while California is a safe state for the Democrats, the race in Texas is a close one but Republicans hold the edge. In the crucial swing state of Florida, Democrats currently hold an advantage of 7% votes.

US President Donald Trump for months has been claiming, without evidence, that mail-in ballots lead to fraud, and many Republicans are expected to vote on election day on November 3.

With coronavirus cases spiking across the country, however, Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Florida who administers the Election Project, warned that the strategy “looks all the more risky.”