Elections and voting may never be the same after 2020, experts say

The 2020 election could usher in a new era of voting habits -- plus break nationwide voter turnout records, experts said Tuesday.

Dr. Edwin Belton, a political science professor at the University of South Florida, told FOX 13 that COVID-19 changed the landscape for the 2020 election and possibly beyond.

"It will shock me if we don't shatter all kinds of voter turnout, both early voting and actual voting," Belton said. "If 60, 61% is the normal, even in a good year, a presidential year, those numbers are going to be far beyond that, I think. I won't venture to say how far."

Belton said the pandemic forced a lot of people to choose to mail in their ballots or vote early to avoid crowds.

Before the polls opened Tuesday morning, more than 96 million Americans had already voted. That's 70% of the final 2016 nationwide total.

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On top of that, there has also been a potentially historic level of interest in the outcome of the election.

"This is like no other election I've ever seen in my 70-plus years on this Earth and I don't think it's anything that we've had similar to this probably in the history of the United States," Belton said, adding there was one election that garnered more interest. "Other than perhaps [during] the Civil War."

Belton believes this is a trend that will continue, long after the era of COVID-19.

"That is the wave to come and I think we've seen the forerunner of that in the 2020 election," he said.

Nationwide, early voting numbers nearly doubled that of 2016. In Florida, more than 90 percent of the 2016 totals had voted before Election Day.