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Trump driving factor behind expected record 2020 voter turnout, expert says

How states can drive voter turnout for 2020
How states can drive voter turnout for 2020 07:36

With voter turnout expected to make history in 2020, a voting expert said there's one person behind the surge: President Trump. "There's only one really big variable that has changed," Michael McDonald, the founder and director of the U.S. Elections Project told CBSN. "And that's Donald Trump."  

A recent analysis by U.S. Elections Project and Nonprofit VOTE, found that the Nov. 2018 election experienced the highest turnout of any midterm election since 1914. It also marked the first time more than 100 million Americans cast a ballot in a non-presidential year. 

In an interview with CBSN's Reena Ninan on "Red & Blue," McDonald highlighted what was behind the surge in voter turnout, but also how it could increase even more. 

Metrics such as small-donor activity and consumption of political news showed Mr. Trump as the driving force behind the increase in voting, McDonald said.  

"Just all across the board people are very engaged right now with politics," McDonald added. 

The recent rise stands in stark contrast to the 2014 midterm election, when the nation had the lowest midterm turnout rate since 1942. 

But despite the historic turnout numbers in 2018, only about half of those eligible to cast a ballot did so. McDonald said states with higher turnout rates could pave the way for more national involvement. For example, Minnesota clocked in the highest rate of any state in 2018 with 64 percent of those eligible coming out to vote. Colorado took second place with 63 percent of the vote. 

McDonald said one of the biggest pathways to reform would be to amend electoral rules to make ballots more accessible. This could be done by pushing back voting registration deadlines so they are closer to Election Day, or offering same day voter registration.

Of the top ten states with the highest turnout, the analysis found nine had both same-day voter registration or vote by mail policies. McDonald said there's bipartisan incentive in "both red and blue states" for automatic registration, which would register someone when they visit a government office. 

There's another factor that McDonald admitted states couldn't control: Competition between candidates "figures prominently" in whether people will vote. "If there's a competitive race people will see a reason to vote and they will show up to participate," he said. 

McDonald's analysis recommends a system known as nonpartisan redistricting to address the issue of competitiveness. This system would entail creating an independent commission that would redraw without influence from politicians' interests. 

"The hope is, that when you have a nonpartisan process, that is more citizen led than by politicians, what you get is more competition in the districts," McDonald said. 

House Democrats recently passed sweeping election reform as part of H.R. 1, which McDonald called "broad" in terms of its goals, but said that it reflects numerous of the ideas he recommends to expand voter participation. The package includes structural reforms such as automatic voting, eliminating voting by mail barriers and allowing online registration. 

However, the measure is widely considered dead upon arrival in the Republican-lead Senate. 

"It's very broad in scope when you look at its ambitions," McDonald said. 

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