Updated at 12:30 p.m. ET
In the final days ahead of potentially pivotal midterm elections, activists are working to get voters to the polls who ordinarily might not show up when the presidency doesn’t hang in the balance.
Donors have poured millions of dollars into efforts to turn out more African-Americans, Hispanics and young people for the 2018 elections.
With early voting under way in many states, there are signs that these efforts may be paying off.
“We’re seeing indications that younger people, persons of color are voting at higher rates relative to 2014,” said Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Florida.
McDonald pointed to the race for Georgia governor as an example. He said the campaign for Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams had focused heavily on getting African-Americans and other likely supporters to vote early by mail.
“We could actually see that African-Americans were making up an unusually large proportion of the mail ballots in Georgia,” McDonald said.
As of Thursday, at least 20 states have already surpassed their vote totals for the entire early voting period in 2014, according to McDonald.
Billy Wimsatt is the executive director of Movement Voter Project, an organization that allows donors to support local groups focused on increasing voting among young people and in communities of color year-round.
Groups that know their communities intimately can make a big difference in motivating people who usually don’t vote to get to the polls, according to Wimsatt.
“They just need to hear from someone they trust or someone locally who’s going to help them close the deal,” Wimsatt said.
The project has provided more than $10 million to more than 300 groups in 40 states ahead of the midterms this year.
As the election nears, Wimsatt said the project is focused on filling budget gaps for these local groups during this critical period: paying for more canvassers and vans to transport people and other things needed during the final push to get out the vote.
“You can scale that up really fast … $10,000 could pay for 50 additional people getting out the vote in a community,” he said.
Voter turnout usually drops off in non-presidential election years, and that drop off is even more steep among minorities and young voters.
But this year, activists argue that President Trump’s polarizing policies and rhetoric are energizing people who might not normally vote.
“There really is a different sense of urgency and a different sense of what’s at stake,” said Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of BlackPAC, which works to mobilize African-American voters. “People understand the country to be in crisis right now. And their response is to say I’m going to participate.”
BlackPAC is spending about $8 million in 10 states on radio and mail ads. Its affiliated social welfare organization, Black Progressive Action Coalition (BPAC), is spending an additional $6 million on a nonpartisan field program, with at least 1,500 canvassers.
The push to improve turnout comes as concerns about voter suppression are rampant in states like Georgia, where tens of thousands of voters have been purged from voter rolls and voting rights lawsuits have been filed.
Shropshire says reports of voter suppression are making some people more determined to vote.
“People are angry at the thought that in 2018 there are forces that are still trying to disenfranchise black communities,” she said. “The challenge is that people need information … about what to do if they are somehow being blocked from voting.”
Ultimately, the final verdict on turnout will be rendered on Election Day. But, McDonald said the high levels of early voting, when taken together with other information gleaned from special elections and polling, seem to point to an increase in voting overall.
“All the information that’s available to us points to an exceptionally high turnout midterm election, at least in modern history,” he said.