WASHINGTON — Nearly 42 million Americans have already voted for president, casting their ballots before the FBI announced Sunday afternoon that it stands by its July decision not to recommend charges over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
Early voters turned out in record numbers in battleground states like Florida, North Carolina and Nevada.
Early voting in most states ended before Sunday, and it’s that clear Hispanic turnout among early voters will outpace the 2012 and 2008 presidential elections, which is good news for Clinton.
Clinton leads Donald Trump by at least 15 percentage points among Hispanic voters, according to polls conducted in the past week.
Yet registered Democrats in Florida and North Carolina have smaller leads over registered Republicans among early voters in 2016 than they did in 2012, a sign that Trump could win both states with a strong showing on Election Day.
“The key is Florida and North Carolina,” said Mercer University elections expert and professor John Christopher Grant. “If she (Clinton) wins both, she has it in the bag. If she loses both I think she loses the election.”
Republicans tend to slightly outperform Democrats among voters who turn out on Election Day in states where early voting is an option, which could propel Trump to victory in Ohio and Iowa.
In some states, the demographic information and party affiliation of early voters are made public, but the results of who they voted for are not. It’s possible that some registered Democrats could vote for Trump and that some registered Republicans defect to Clinton.
Trump got a boost when FBI Director James Comey announced Oct. 28 that the agency had found Clinton emails on the laptop of former Rep. Anthony Wiener, D-N.Y., the estranged husband of Clinton’s top aide, during an unrelated investigation into Wiener. Comey didn’t say, though, whether the emails were relevant or whether they duplicated the ones found earlier.
On Sunday, Comey informed Congress that after days of work, the agency reached the same conclusion as it in the summer –that no charges were warranted.
Grant said Clinton’s strength in the polls before the FBI letter was released more than a week earlier means voters who cast ballots before that time are not affected by recent shifts.
“Early voting ends the campaign for some voters three weeks before the election,” Grant said.
In Florida, Democrats have opened up a slight lead over Republicans during the final days of early voting, but the state is still considered a toss-up.
A larger percentage of new Hispanic voters in Florida voted early, compared with white or black voters. That’s good news for Clinton as she hits Trump on the campaign trail for his previous statements on Mexicans and a former Hispanic beauty queen.
“The share of the Hispanic vote is growing every election and this will be the third presidential election in Florida where Hispanics trend heavily against the GOP,” said Florida pollster Fernand Amandi.
But the percentage of African-Americans turning out to vote in Florida is down, which is not good news for Clinton. African-Americans overwhelmingly support Clinton.
“Florida it looks like it comes down to Latino voters and turnout among African-Americans,” Grant said, adding that some of the state’s traditionally Republican Puerto Rican and Cuban populations could move to Clinton.
The news is also mixed in North Carolina, where registered Democrats and Republicans are neck-and-neck in turnout. More than 3 million ballots have been cast in North Carolina, outpacing 2012, when 2.8 million voted early.
“North Carolina is the most interesting state in the election,” Grant said. “When there’s so much at stake it’s going to come down to whoever did the best in early voting.”
Hispanic turnout is up in North Carolina, but Hispanics are a smaller share of the electorate compared with Florida. African-American turnout is down 11 percent during early voting, although some Democratic officials were prepared for a drop-off with Barack Obama no longer on the ticket.
The lower turnout could also be due to North Carolina’s process of challenging voters’ registration, a practice one U.S. judge called “insane.” In certain North Carolina counties, the number of early voting locations was drastically reduced.
In Nevada, Trump has reverted to his “rigged” rhetoric as early vote numbers in the Las Vegas area suggest that Clinton has an advantage. Hispanics are voting at a higher rate in Nevada, too.
“It’s being reported that certain key Democratic polling locations in Clark County were kept open for hours and hours beyond closing time to bus and bring Democratic voters in,” Trump said at a rally in Reno. “Folks, it’s a rigged system. It’s a rigged system. And we’re going to beat it.”
But experts in Nevada say the Democrats’ early voting operation, streamlined for years by outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, has provided a nearly insurmountable lead for Trump to overcome on Election Day.
“Clinton’s campaign has Harry Reid’s organization in Nevada,” Grant said. “He doesn’t want his seat to switch and they have waged a full hard early vote turnout, like Barack Obama.”
And in Texas, where early voting also broke records, more than 4 million people cast ballots in the state’s 15 most populous counties through Thursday. University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that’s because Texas is more of a toss-up this year, and Democrats in the traditionally Republican state realize that their votes matter.
The early voting news is better for Trump in Ohio and Iowa.
Clinton needs large margins in the Cleveland area to win the state and it’s not happening. Early vote requests are down nearly 35 percent in metropolitan Cleveland, compared with 2012.
More whites are voting in Ohio and there’s little shift in the Hispanic vote to offset a decline among African-Americans. That could lead to a Trump win in a state where he is favored but must win to have a shot at beating Clinton.
In Iowa, Republicans and Democrats are turning out at a lower rate than previous elections, but the drop-off among Republicans is much less.
Republicans in the state’s ultra-conservative 4th Congressional District, represented by anti-immigration hard-liner Steve King, are voting at a slightly higher rate than less conservative Republicans in other parts of Iowa. Democrats still have a lead in early voting, but the current numbers suggest Trump will be able to catch up and win on Election Day.
“I think in Ohio and Iowa the people who are really aggravated and mad want to get that vote cast and done,” Grant said. “The true, hardcore Trump supporters are doing their best.”
Michigan and Pennsylvania, two states Trump is trying to flip from Democratic to Republican to expand his path to victory, do not have early voting.