Opinion: Don't make predictions based on eye-popping early voting numbers

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Democrats might be in a very strong position, but Republicans could come roaring back on Election Day.

Election cycle after election cycle, early voting has become more popular. Over the last decade or so, states have been making voting early easier by offering in-person early voting, all mail elections, or no excuse absentee voting.

However, the coronavirus pandemic super-charged that trend.

More states are offering vote by mail or early in-person voting to help mitigate the public health risks that COVID-19 poses. And because of this, we are seeing historic levels of early voting.

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According to the U.S. Elections Project, as of Oct. 30, more than 83.5 million people across the country have voted — over 61% of total 2016 turnout. At this point in 2016, roughly 21 million people had voted early.

However, it is important not to read too much into the avalanche of early voting.

There are two factors that make reading these early results difficult.

First, the pandemic has impacted Americans’ lives in just about every way possible — including voting. As more and more states have made early voting easier, more and more voters are taking advantage of it. It’s important to remember that when we look at these eye-popping early vote numbers, because it’s difficult to discern how many of these voters are new voters coming into the process versus how many are the more traditional “Election Day” voters who are voting early because of COVID.

Second, we have never seen such a partisan gap in voters’ view of early voting. This is a direct result of Donald Trump’s unfounded, but sustained, attacks on voting by mail.

In a recent ABC/Washington Post poll, 64% of voters supporting Joe Biden said they planned to vote early. For Trump, it was the exact opposite with 61% of his supporters saying they planned to vote on Election Day.

Because of this huge disparity, the partisan gap on the early vote might be even more pronounced than in the past.

In other words, Democrats might be in a very strong position, but Republicans could come roaring back on Election Day.

Layered on top of all this are the ongoing legal battles across the country as Trump and his Republican allies seek to disenfranchise millions of voters through the courts.

The lawsuits, intended to restrict Americans’ right to vote, range in subject from witness signatures to ballot-received dates and have been filed in jurisdictions across the country.

Unfortunately for voters, the suits could change the rules of the road right up to the election.

We need to remain vigilant when it comes to making sure voters are getting their ballots in with plenty of time.

With just four days left in the election, it’s too late for voters to mail their ballots. Voters who had planned on mailing their ballots now need to drop them off at an official drop-off location (find your official drop-off location here).

Democrats, with 77,744 votes across three states making the difference in 2016, need to go pedal to the metal all the way through the checkered flag on Nov. 3.

Jim Messina is CEO of The Messina Group and chief strategist for American Bridge 21st Century. He was formerly White House deputy chief of staff under President Obama, and campaign manager for the president's 2012 reelection campaign.