Amid attacks on the U.S. Postal Service, historically high ballot rejection rates, and ongoing attempts by President Donald Trump to delegitimize the election, a growing number of Democratic politicians and experts are calling on U.S. voters to consider voting in-person and as-soon-as-possible to avoid a contested result.
While recognizing that the Covid-19 pandemic will make vote-by-mail the safest option for many Americans, strategists are concerned that a failure to ensure large numbers of in-person ballots in favor of Democrats could play right into Trump's hands.
"If you're in a state where you have the option to vote early, do that now. The more votes in early, the less likely you're going to see a last-minute crunch."
On Thursday, Axios published an article quoting numerous Democratic officials and organizations, most of them imploring voters to get out there and cast their ballots as soon as they can—which is this week in at least five states.
"Democrats spent the early months of the coronavirus pandemic urging their base to vote absentee," the outlet reported. "But as threats of U.S. Postal Service delays, Team Trump litigation and higher ballot rejection rates become clearer, many are pivoting to promote more in-person voting as well."
With Democrats much more likely to vote by mail than Republicans, the outcome of the November presidential contest could be altered if enough ballots are lost, rejected, or undercounted.
In Colorado, former Gov. John Hickenlooper, who is challenging Sen. Cory Gardner, told Axios that he is encouraging voters to physically take their ballots to a drop-box, and to do so "early, early, early."
Somebody change my mind about this, but given:
a) the safety of in-person voting in other countries, like Korea, that conducted elections without outbreaks; and
b) the many issues with mailed ballots,
I'm worried abt the unforced error of Dems' "don't vote in person" messaging pic.twitter.com/Eaf7vI5BWC
— Derek Thompson (@DKThomp) September 23, 2020
Former President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama have urged Americans to both vote early and vote by mail (one or the other, of course).
"Make sure your friends, families and communities are registered, know their rights, and are fully prepared to vote by mail this year or vote early in person," the former first lady said in August, a message she has repeated numerous times since then.
"If you're in a state where you have the option to vote early, do that now," the former president tweeted in August. "The more votes in early, the less likely you're going to see a last-minute crunch, both at polling places and in states where mail-in ballots are permitted. Then tell everyone you know."
If you're in a state where you have the option to vote early, do that now. The more votes in early, the less likely you're going to see a last minute crunch, both at polling places and in states where mail-in ballots are permitted. Then tell everyone you know.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 14, 2020
The Collective PAC, the nation's largest political action committee targeting Black voters and candidates, has also adjusted its strategy.
"We're shifting away from making plans to vote by mail to voting early in person," Quentin James, the group's founder, told Axios.
The shift has been noticable in recent days among progressives and voting rights experts as well. On Wednesday, Common Dreams published an op-ed in which author and FairVote founder Steven Hill wrote that "the best strategy in many of the battleground states is to put on your mask and vote in person before Election Day."
"The U.S. has reached such a perilous state that this simple act has become heroic," Hill wrote.
"Not only will it secure your vote most effectively, it will also shorten the Election Day lines for other Americans. We can best safeguard our democracy this November by utilizing early voting, and showing up to vote with our masks, in as many battleground states as possible."
Hill warned that "Biden and the Democrats are walking into a trap in the battleground states" if they do not encourage more people to vote in-person, and preferably ahead of Election Day wherever possible.
"In normal times, I am a proponent of vote by mail," wrote Hill. "But these are not normal times."
I'm voting in-person and doing it early. I'm hoping everyone who can does too. I'd like to see Biden leading on election night.
— Thor Benson (@thor_benson) September 24, 2020
Others acknowledged that while in-person voting seemed fraught with peril during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, officials have by now figured out how to safely operate polling places.
it was right to fear in-person voting back in March, but all evidence suggests that we basically have it figured out https://t.co/ERmwquPyTO
— ryan cooper (@ryanlcooper) September 24, 2020
Experts say there are good reasons to be wary of over-reliance upon absentee voting. According to NPR, more than 550,000 mail-in ballots were rejected nationwide during the 2020 presidential primaries. FiveThirtyEight reported earlier this month that Black North Carolina voters' ballots are being rejected at more than four times the rate of white voters.
In Florida, first-time absentee voters are more than twice as likely to have their ballots rejected, according to University of Florida political science professor Dan Smith. Smith also told the ACLU last week that young voters and racial and ethnic minority voters are "much more likely" to cast ballots that are rejected.
There are also concerns over Trump administration attacks on and cuts to the U.S. Postal Service, and perhaps most alarming of all are the president's repeated declarations that he may not leave office peacefully if he loses the election.
Officials for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's campaign say that people should vote however they feel most comfortable, and that they have never recommended one form of voting over another.
"For us it's always been about how we can get people to vote early no matter what, and that's our number one priority," Jenn Ridder, the national states director for Biden's campaign, told Axios. "Folks who like to vote in person can still do that early too, by filling out your ballot and physically bringing it to the polling location."
The shift in emphasis away from mail-in voting to a balance between absentee and early in-person voting seems to be working. On Thursday, people lined up for hours in some places to cast their ballots on the first day of in-person voting in Illinois.
The line keeps getting longer and longer.... DuPage County Clerk officials tell me 129 people voted during the first two hours of early in-person voting. There’s almost a two hour wait. That is unprecedented, for the first day of early voting. @nbcchicago pic.twitter.com/i5WmYonxz1
— Sandra Torres (@SandraTorresNBC) September 24, 2020
Despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic—which has now killed more than 200,000 people in the U.S.—long lines have been reported in numerous locales where early voting has already begun, including Virginia, Illinois, Minnesota, and elsewhere.