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Ability to change a vote cast early may not matter, says expert

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Million Air Orlando, which is at Orlando Sanford International Airport on October 25, 2016 in Sanford, Florida.
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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Million Air Orlando, which is at Orlando Sanford International Airport on October 25, 2016 in Sanford, Florida.

Republican nominee Donald Trump has a message for voters, but it likely is not going to be effective enough to clinch the presidency or siphon many early voters away from Hillary Clinton, one election expert said.

"This is a good time to make an important public service announcement because a lot of things have happened over the last few days," Trump said at a rally earlier this week. "This is a message for any Democratic voter who have already cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton and who are having a bad case of buyer's remorse — in other words, you want to change your vote."

In a separate tweet, Trump urged people to change their votes in the states that allow it. More than 31 million ballots have already been cast, or roughly a quarter of the total expected turnout.

But so far, the fallout from FBI Director James Comey's letter to Congress informing it that the bureau is once again looking at Clinton's emails does not seem to be having much of an effect.

"The race remains on the same path as it did before the release of the letter and after the release of the letter," said Michael McDonald, associate professor at the University of Florida, who specializes in American elections. "It appears the letter had no effect on the trajectory of the early vote so far."

Part of this stems from the unprecedented attention this election has received. The race has gripped voters' attention, leading to Americans' having a lot of information to inform their votes before casting early ballots.

"People have been paying attention," McDonald said. "No one is forcing them to cast an early vote. They're casting their vote after they've made up their minds."

"It's not going to be nearly enough to change the outcome of the election," he added.

Only a handful of states even offer people the ability to change votes they have already cast ahead of Nov. 8.

These states include Wisconsin (where the deadline expired Thursday), Minnesota (where the deadline has also already expired), Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut and Mississippi. A few of these states, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, are important states for Trump in his bid to get enough electoral votes to defeat Clinton, who has been favored by many pollsters to win.

Some states say voters are asking how to change their ballots. Since changing an absentee ballot involves either voting in person on Election Day or requesting a new absentee ballot depending on a state's rules, it is unclear how many of these voters will actually follow through and switch their choices.

"A lot of people have called the state board and asked if they can do it," said John Conklin, director of public information for the New York State Board of Elections.

On Friday, Reid Magney, public information officer at the Wisconsin Elections Commission, wrote in an email: "We may have some data late today, but it is very fuzzy. No way to break out numbers of people who change votes versus ballots cancelled for other reasons. Probably just a few per city on average."

In Mississippi, which has absentee voting but not early voting, the state has received more calls from voters asking to change their absentee ballots than in prior years. Since the only way to override an absentee vote is to vote on Election Day, officials will not know how many people actually replace their vote until then.

"We have gotten some requests," said Leah Rupp Smith, Mississippi's assistant secretary of state of communications. "We do not know, though, if they are tied to any one event."

Is it possible that this year's election, with its many twists and turns leading up to Election Day, would spark more states to tweak their rules moving forward for switching their votes?

McDonald said voting changes of heart only really work in places where people are casting absentee ballots and can request to void the ballot.

"It's possible where you have privacy envelopes that are still associated with the voter," McDonald said.

But without those, it would create a "logistical nightmare" for election officials to find the ballots of voters who cast early in-person ballots and changed their minds.

While it would be difficult to accomplish, McDonald said he still sees a path to victory for Trump as the election nears.

"He's got to run the board on every battleground state and he's got to pick up a blue state," he said. "It's going to be very tough."