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Millions Expected To Vote Before Election Day

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Election Day is officially five days off, but more than 30 million Americans have already cast their ballots. Early voting this year's higher than ever before. NPR's Asma Khalid covers the intersection of demographics and politics and joins us now to try to make sense of who is voting early and what that means.

Good morning.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Oh, and first off, why are we seeing so many people voting early? I know there are a lot of changes, but what exactly are they?

KHALID: Sure. You know, well, one reason, you know, is that more states just now allow early voting. My home state of Massachusetts has instituted early voting for the first time this year, and so a lot more states are just allowing this practice either in person or by mail-in ballot. And, Renee, if you look at the 1990s, you'll see that only about 10 percent of voters were casting their ballots before Election Day. Now, this election cycle, we're going to see probably well over a third of Americans vote before Election Day, and if you look at some battleground states, it's even higher than that. Take Colorado or Arizona - about two-thirds of voters are likely going to vote before November 8.

MONTAGNE: And of those a third of voters - all voters - can you tell us who they are voting for?

KHALID: We can't. Election officials, you know, aren't opening up the ballots to see how people voted. But analysts can glean a lot of details about the types of people voting. I talked to Michael McDonald about this. He's this early voting elections guru based at the University of Florida.

MICHAEL MCDONALD: The earliest of early voters are people who are high-information voters. They fit the characteristics of people who are paying very close attention to politics. They vote very frequently. They are registered with a political party, if there is party registration in a state. They are older than other voters.

KHALID: And, Renee, one important detail that you can see in this early voting data is a person's party ID.

MONTAGNE: Well then, beyond Republican and Democratic, that is the parties themselves, what are the demographics? Who's voting early?

KHALID: So so far we've been able to see that Hispanic turnout across the board is higher than it was in 2012. And that's generally thought to benefit Hillary Clinton because she consistently polls better with Latinos. But one analyst cautioned me that some of this higher turnout, you know, it's hard to interpret exactly what it is. He said it could just be a result of population growth. You know, the Pew Research Center estimates that some 4 million Latinos have become eligible to vote since 2012.

Then on the flip side, Renee, we're seeing that African-American turnout is down. And, you know, there were always questions about whether Hillary Clinton could match the historic levels of turnout we saw when the country elected its first black president. And so far, there could be some troubling signs for her, and that's particularly important in a state like North Carolina. Black voters make up a large percentage of the electorate. And I asked this question to Michael Bitzer. He's a professor in North Carolina who looks at early voting stats.

MICHAEL BITZER: Black voters are about 13 percent behind where they were this same day four years ago. And that may have a strategic campaign impact particularly on Secretary Clinton's campaign here in North Carolina. If they don't get their coalition voters out to vote early, they have to shift their resources and attention to getting them on Tuesday November 8.

KHALID: And, Renee, you know, one thing we should note that's very unique in North Carolina is this year there were fewer polling places open compared to 2012 where people could vote early. The other sort of wild card in North Carolina that Bitzer mentioned to me is that, you know, we're seeing a lot of unaffiliated voters. And with those voters, we don't know whether they're voting Republican or Democrat or whether they're splitting their ticket, and we just won't know until Election Day.

MONTAGNE: Asma, thanks.

KHALID: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Asma Khalid, who covers the intersection of demographics and politics. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.