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Absentee and Early Voting by Youth in the 2020 Election

In every state we're tracking, the youth share of the early vote is higher than in 2016, and in eight states youth have already cast more votes than the 2016 presidential margin of victory.

We've updated our early youth vote analysis on our 2020 Election Week page. See the latest data there.

More than 7 million young people (ages 18-29) have already voted early or absentee in the 2020 elections, including over 4 million in 14 key states that may well decide the presidency and control of the United States Senate. And, in 13 states, the youth share of the early vote (meaning, the percentage of all early votes in a state, absentee or in-person, that have been cast by youth), is higher than it was as of this point in 2016.

As part of our analysis of young people’s participation in 2020, we’re tracking early voting by young people—both in person and by mail. Earlier this cycle, we raised concerns about the challenges faced by young people who had to learn about voting by mail/absentee (something low-income youth of color and Black youth have had less access to) amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Now we’re getting an early look into whether, and how strongly, youth may be navigating these new or changing election processes.

Below, we highlight early voting data for youth in states where our Youth Electoral Significance Index suggests young voters can be highly influential. We also include Texas, which is emerging as a presidential battleground and setting early voting records. The data includes youth votes cast as of 7 days before the 2020 Election (October 27), total ballots requested by youth (whether by mail or during in-person early voting) as of that date, and the total votes cast by young people (early AND on Election Day) in each state in the 2016 election. 

In every state we’re tracking, the number of absentee and early votes cast as of seven days before Election Day is far higher than at the same point in 2016. The numbers are especially dramatic in a state like Texas, where more than 1 million young people have already cast ballots, nearly approaching the 1.2 million total votes cast by youth (both early and on Election Day) in 2016.

Have Most Youth Already Voted?

In fact, with a week of early voting (when the data was collected) and Election Day still to come, in Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, and Montana, young people have already cast at least half as many votes as they did total votes in the last presidential election. And there is good reason to believe that early votes from youth will continue to come in throughout the next few days. For one thing, young people have been more likely to decide who to vote for later than other age groups. Moreover, in 2016, young voters were the most likely to cast their early vote or have their ballot arrive in the last six days before Election Day. In fact, about half of all absentee and early votes from youth arrived or were cast within that time frame, compared to just a quarter of early votes from the age 65+ electorate. While the emphasis on voting as early as possible in this unique election cycle may shift this trend, it’s clear that outreach to young people—to encourage them to return an absentee ballot to an official drop box or to cast a ballot in-person—in the next several days is still critical.

Youth Share and Electoral Impact

Some have suggested that the apparently high levels of voting from youth are merely part of a broader trend of high electoral participation across every age group. We won’t know that for sure until all votes are counted, but early voting data does show young people making up a larger part of the electorate. At least so far, in 13 of the states we’re tracking (2016 data for PA is not available) young people are making up  a higher share of the early vote than they did at a similar point in 2016.

In Texas, young people had cast 6% of all early and absentee votes as of a week before the 2016 Election Day. They have cast 13% now. In North Carolina, it was 6.7% then and 12.6% now. In Florida, from 7.3% to 9.6%. The most dramatic increase has been in Michigan, where 9.4% of all early votes have been cast by youth this year, compared to just 2.5% in 2016.

An increase of just a few percentage points may seem small, but it can make a big difference. In states with highly competitive races, even a slight increase in the youth share of total votes can be decisive, and these increases in the early vote share are a positive sign for high youth share in the total vote. Already this year, young people in eight of the states we’re tracking (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Maine, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Minnesota) have already cast more votes than the margin of victory in that state’s 2016 presidential election. 

All of this data continues to highlight that youth interest and participation in this year’s election is at historic levels, as a rising generation of young people seek to act on their power to drive political change on issues they care about. It’s also the result of tireless work by stakeholders and advocates who have worked tirelessly to engage youth, especially young people themselves, who have marched, talked politics with their peers, registered their friends and families—all while dealing with a crippling global pandemic. Whatever the final youth turnout and the result on Election Day, the message is clear: sustained engagement in young people has paid off. And strong youth voter participation can continue in election cycles to come if the commitment to uplifting youth voices and investing in the infrastructure that supports youth engagement also continues.

Explore our 2020 Election Center for more data leading up to Election Day.

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