Undeterred by Trump's threats, early voters break turnout records

The president issued an ominous tweet meant to deter early voters, but it hasn't worked

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published October 22, 2018 3:24PM (EDT)

 (AP/Photo Montage by Salon)
(AP/Photo Montage by Salon)

Early voting numbers are already achieving dizzying heights for the 2018 midterm elections, despite President Donald Trump tweeting a veiled threat on Saturday.

"All levels of government and Law Enforcement are watching carefully for VOTER FRAUD, including during EARLY VOTING. Cheat at your own peril. Violators will be subject to maximum penalties, both civil and criminal" Trump tweeted.

Trump's tweet references the longstanding Republican boogeyman of voter fraud, which has been cited by the party as justification for throwing up voting restrictions despite the overwhelming evidence that voter fraud is so scant as to be effectively a non-issue.

Yet if Trump's goal was to scare potential early voters away from the polls, it not only hasn't worked but has spectacularly failed.

69,049 people showed up for the first day of in-person early voting in Georgia last Monday, according to the blog Politically Georgia, compared to only 20,898 who did so during the 2014 midterm elections. In Tennessee, the first three days of early voting last week saw at least 281,000 people turn out, a major increase from the similar midterm voting numbers in 2010 and 2014, according to the Times Free Press. Record numbers of early voters have also been reported in states like Nevada and Texas.

"All signs point to a higher turnout election," Michael McDonald, a political scientist at the University of Florida, told The Hill. "Where we can make comparisons, so far the numbers are up from 2014. Which is not a surprise because 2014 was an exceptionally low turnout election."

The Hill further summarized the voter turnout situation using McDonald's analysis:

Already, more than 800,000 Florida residents have voted in competitive races for governor and a U.S. Senate seat. Nearly half a million Californians have cast their ballot. So have more than 200,000 people in Tennessee and Arizona. More than 100,000 ballots have been submitted in Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

McDonald estimated that midterm turnout could be as high as 50 percent of the voting-eligible population, a peak last reached in the 1966 midterm elections.

Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor in Georgia, complained about the larger political culture that has been created in America to discourage voting. As Abrams told CNN's "State of the Union" recently, "the miasma of fear that is created through voter suppression is as much about terrifying people about trying to vote as it is about actually blocking their ability to do so." She added that the decision by her opponent, Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, to put a hold on 53,000 voter registration forms had eroded trust in American government.

"When you know that what you are doing is going to have a disproportionate effect on people of color and on women and you do it anyway, that erodes the public trust in the system and that's problematic," Abrams told CNN.

Even Fox News wrote an article admitting that early voting patterns could be a bad sign for the GOP:

Early voting numbers show a dramatic increase in voter engagement in this year's midterm elections compared with 2014 totals, and preliminary turnout results in some states are sending Republicans renewed warnings of a so-called "blue wave" just weeks before Election Day.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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2018 Midterm Elections Donald Trump