WASHINGTON – In battleground states that will decide the Nov. 3 presidential race, Democrats have embraced a turnout strategy tailored for the COVID-19 pandemic: urging supporters to request mail ballots and return them right away.
But ahead of mail-voting kicking off this month, beginning Friday with North Carolina, some party operatives are warning that a heavy reliance on mail ballots could carry risks and want to encourage people who are healthy to consider voting in person.
Polling shows Democratic nominee Joe Biden with a decisive mail-voting advantage, with the former vice president’s voters twice as likely to vote by mail than supporters of Donald Trump. That has led some Democrats to worry that misleading signals could emerge on election night if Trump builds an initial lead with in-person votes even as he lags Biden on mail ballots, which take longer to count.
They fear that Trump, who has promoted unfounded theories that mail voting is rife with fraud, might try to cast doubt on the validity of uncounted mail ballots, setting the stage for chaos and lengthy legal battles in the aftermath of the election.
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In a new report released Tuesday, Hawkfish, a Democratic-aligned data and technology firm founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, warns of a “red mirage” on election night in which Trump will appear ahead even if he’s not. Only as more mail-in ballots are reflected in the count, the group says, “will this red mirage dissipate, and Biden’s lead materialize.”
“We can anticipate that the president and at least Fox News likely, but many others, are going to declare victory at that point,” said Ellen Konar, the group’s vice president of voter research. “They’re not going to say, ‘Oh, let’s hold off. We don’t have all the ballots in.'”
Biden leads Trump nationally in a new USA Today/Suffolk University poll, 50% to 43% over Trump, and in nine out of 11 battlegrounds, according to Morning Consult. But the race remains fluid. Despite Biden’s lead in the USA TODAY/Suffolk poll, his seven-point advantage was narrower than the 12-point lead he held in the same survey in June.
Polls in battleground states continue to show tight races. If that remains the case on Nov. 3, it could take days for the results to emerge.
In several states not accustomed to high volumes of mail-in voting, including key Rust Belt swing states Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, election officials cannot start counting ballots until voting ends on election night. Other swing states, such as Minnesota, allow absentee ballots to be postmarked up to Election Day.
That means partial results released on election night in these states – while not official until all votes are counted and certified – will include mostly votes cast in-person early or on Election Day. Polling shows Trump has a major advantage with the latter category. Meanwhile, days and even weeks could be required for some states to count all mail-in votes that are expected to heavily favor Democrats.
The group’s objectives: prepare the public for such scenarios, issue a call to media and pundits to “engage wisely and cautiously” and encourage Democrats and others backing Biden to rethink how they intend to vote.
“If you have developed antibodies to the virus or you feel comfortable being at a voting place,” Konar said, that’s one way to make sure “your vote will be in the initial count.”
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Other prominent Democrats have voiced similar concerns, underscoring a fear among many Democrats about a contested election. “This is what sets up potential disaster,” David Axelrod, former advisor to President Barack Obama, tweeted last month, “with Trump claiming fraud as the count turns against him.”
Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic nominee, said Trump hopes to “get a narrow advantage in the Electoral College on Election Day,” putting an emphasis on “Election Day.” She stressed that absentee ballots will be still left to count.
“Joe Biden should not concede under any circumstances,” Clinton said in an interview last week on The Circus on Showtime, “because I think this is going to drag out”
Even before the 2020 cycle, absentee and provisional ballots counted late had started to skew toward Democrats. It has often turned deficits for Democratic candidates into leads, so much so…