WASHINGTON — Driven by an intense race for the presidency, a greater percentage of Americans voted Tuesday than at any time in more than three decades.
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Figures tabulated Wednesday by The Associated Press showed that 114.9 million people had voted with 99 percent of precincts reporting.
However, the total figure is closer to 117.8 million based on estimates of uncounted absentee and mail ballots in California, Oregon and Washington, said Curtis Gans, director of the nonpartisan Committee for the Study of the American Electorate. Another 2 million votes remain, given incomplete tabulations in some states, provisional ballots and other absentee ballots, he said.
Gans put the total turnout at nearly 120 million people. That represents just under 60 percent of eligible voters — the highest percentage turnout since 1968, Gans said.
105.4 million in 2000
One county clerk in Illinois spoke for poll workers across the country on Election Day when he summed up the turnout with one word: “Gangbusters.”
Four years ago, in the election that led to Republican George W. Bush’s narrow victory over Democrat Al Gore, slightly more than 54 percent of eligible voters, or about 105.4 million, voted.
President Clinton’s 1996 re-election bid drew just 49 percent of eligible voters, about 96.3 million. But his 1992 challenge to the first President Bush brought out 55.2 percent of eligible voters, or about 104.4 million.
Officials had eyes on whether Tuesday’s turnout would rival the 1960 benchmark, when about two-thirds of eligible voters came out to back either Democrat John Kennedy or Republican Richard Nixon.
At least six states — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia — and the District of Columbia set voter-turnout highs, according to Gans’ analysis. Kentucky initially appeared to set a record for turnout, too, but more analysis showed that was not the case.
“On both sides, the presidency of George Bush was a lightning rod,” he said. “For those who supported him, they supported him for traditional values, strong leadership, the war on terrorism and some rejection of things that the Democrats advocate,” such as abortion rights and gay civil unions.
“On the other side, it was the war on Iraq, debt, the feeling he hadn’t been candid with the American people, too conservative values and division in the country,” Gans said.
No youth surge
An estimated 9 percent of voters Tuesday were 18 to 24, about the same proportion of the electorate as in 2000, exit polls indicated. The youth vote accounted for 17 percent of turnout when broadened to the 18-to-29 age group, also about the same share as in the last presidential race.
Still, the actual number of young voters was up, given that overall voter turnout was higher.
When it comes to voting, the United States still has some distance to go to match the participation of voters in other democracies. But by U.S. standards, Tuesday shaped up as an impressive show.
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