Many of those voters will not immediately return their ballots, and it is difficult to predict when most ballots will be sent in. In a normal year in California, a populous state with a traditional 29-day mail ballot period, about half of the total mail vote typically is returned about 10 days before Election Day, said Paul Mitchell of Political Data Inc., a voter data firm used by both Republicans and Democrats in California.
Still, even a portion of the early vote could swing the election in competitive states decided by a relatively small number of votes.
In Minnesota, where Trump lost to Hillary Clinton in 2016 by only about 45,000 votes, early voting will start on Sept. 18. “If you’re talking about just winning on the margins here, and it being a close election … if you don’t have your s— together by Sept. 18, it’s going to be harder to catch up,” said Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party chairman, Ken Martin.
In Arizona, where early voting starts Oct. 7, Steven Slugocki, Democratic Party chairman in the swing county of Maricopa, tells party activists that “Election Day is not Nov. 3. It’s October 7, and it goes until Nov. 3.”
He said, “I tell people all the time: Literally, you could win or lose in that first week, three weeks before Election Day.”
Republicans are scrambling to narrow Democrats’ mail voting advantage, with state and county parties appealing to voters to request mail ballots despite Trump’s rhetoric. In Minnesota, Republican phone-bankers are urging Trump supporters to request absentee ballots “so you can put more time and effort to helping our Republican candidates from President Trump and all GOP candidates up and down the ballot,” according to a call script obtained by POLITICO.
Jack Brill, acting chairman of the local Republican Party in Sarasota County, Fla., said his county party has “spent a ton of money” trying to increase Republican mail voting rates, and his family registered to vote by mail “to help the numbers.”
But Brill expects Republicans in his county will largely wait to swamp the polls on Election Day, as do party officials elsewhere. Jennifer Carnahan, chairwoman of the Minnesota Republican Party, said that while the party is making a “strong push” for absentee voting, “Election Day is still, as it stands now, the day when the majority of people vote.”
When it comes to undecided voters, it is becoming increasingly apparent to Republicans that the later the decision is made, the better. It is still possible that conditions surrounding the virus will improve, and even if they do not, Trump could damage Biden in the debates. Biden has profited from a period of the campaign in which he has largely remained secluded at his Delaware home.
Phillip Stephens, the Republican Party chairman in Robeson County, one of several North Carolina counties that shifted from supporting Barack Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016, said that the “urgency is being felt by both sides.” Democrats want people to vote now, while Biden is still “in the basement,” he said, while Republicans need “to push a decision to Election Day as much as possible.”
But relying on Election Day voting can be hazardous. People forget to vote. Rain might diminish turnout. An outbreak of the coronavirus could scare potential voters away.
“Trump is going to dominate among Election Day voters,” said the longtime Republican pollster Glen Bolger. “But what if there’s bad weather in a part of a key state, or there’s a coronavirus outbreak and voters say, ‘Nah, I’m not going to stand in line and vote.’”
Rick Gorka, a Trump campaign spokesman, agreed that “Election Day isn’t on Nov. 3. GOTV [get-out-the-vote] starts the day after Labor Day.” But the Trump campaign disputes that the timeline is a problem for the president. If the election was held tomorrow, Gorka said, Trump would benefit from his large field and digital organization, which has been preparing for the general election — and making millions of door knocks and phone calls — since long before Biden became the nominee.
“What team does Joe Biden have in place to do get-out-the-vote efforts? He doesn’t have one,” Gorka said. “And voters, for the most part, don’t just show up … You have to beg, borrow, steal, annoy, persuade.”
Trump is working against a Democratic apparatus that is furiously trying to put the election out of reach before Election Day. Through the Biden-Democratic National Committee coordinated campaign, there are now hundreds of field staffers working on early voting efforts across the battleground states, a DNC official said. Priorities USA, the Biden campaign’s preferred big-money vehicle, is preparing to spend heavily on digital ads in August pushing Democratic-leaning voters without a history of voting by mail to request mail-in ballots, part of a $24 million vote-by-mail and voter mobilization program.
Patrick McHugh, Priorities’ executive director, said “Trump has a dwindling window of time” to turn the election in his favor. He put it at “about half the amount of time of the 100 days.”