With votes still being counted, turnout in the 2020 presidential election has hit a 50-year high, exceeding the record set by the 2008 presidential election of Barack Obama -- an extraordinary engagement this year.
As of Sunday, the tallied votes accounted for 62% of the eligible voting-age population in the U.S. That's a 0.4 percentage-point increase so far over the rate hit in 2008, when the nation elected its first Black president.
The sheer number of votes also set records, although that's a less remarkable milestone given the country's growing population. So far, 148 million votes have been tallied, with Democrat Joe Biden winning more than 75 million -- the highest number for a presidential candidate in history. Trump received more than 70 million.
The numbers are still rising as election officials continue to count ballots. Election experts and partisans already are debating the forces behind the swell of civic participation. Some pointed to the numbers as evidence of what happens when states expand the time and the ways voters can cast ballots, as many states did this year. Others noted the passions Trump provoked -- both for and against.
The voting result is the highest turnout since 1968, according to data from The Associated Press and the United States Elections Project. Experts surmise that the 2020 rate could hit heights not seen since the beginning of the 20th century, before all women were allowed to vote.
"It's hard to imagine we can get higher than this," said Michael McDonald, a political scientist at the University of Florida who runs the Elections Project.
An Associated Press analysis shows that some of the biggest turnout increases to date occurred in states that loosened their mail-voting rules. In two states where mail voting was expanded significantly, Montana and Vermont, turnout rose by more than 10 percentage points and more than 9 percentage points, respectively, over the previous presidential election, enough to put the states into the top-10 increases. Hawaii saw the biggest turnout increase, a more than 14 percentage-point jump so far.
Texas, which did not expand mail voting but gave voters extra time to cast early ballots in person, saw a turnout increase of more than 9 percentage points, moving from 50% to 59% of its voting-age population going to the polls.
Many of the states with the biggest increases -- including Arizona, Texas and Georgia -- were new battlegrounds in the presidential race, places where Democrats sought to mobilize new voters and shift Republican strongholds. Some analysts noted that the number proved the efficacy of voter outreach and organization efforts.
"People vote when they're asked to vote," said Seth Masket, a political scientist at Denver University.
But the record-high participation, to Democrats' surprise, did not always help them. The party lost House seats and failed to win enough Senate seats outright to take control of the upper chamber. Control of the Senate now rests on runoffs in Georgia. They also failed to turn a single state legislature from Republican control.
Those results undermine the longtime conventional wisdom that Democrats benefit most from high turnout.
Information for this article was contributed by Meghan Hoyer and Angeliki Kastanis of The Associated Press.