Cindy Kalogeropoulos, a supporter of Joe Biden, he took no chances when his vote-by-mail arrived on September 29. The Michigan retiree filled out the ballot, drove seven miles to the nearest mailbox, and stayed to make sure elections officials picked it up, all within 48 hours of receiving it.
In the neighbor Ohio, Eric Bjornard, 42, and his wife Abigail, also supporters of Biden, voted diligently. The couple hand-delivered their ballots by mail to their local election office last month, five weeks before the November 3 election.
Democratic leaders have been urging Biden supporters to come forward en masse and vote early, fearing that unless they achieve a landslide victory, the Republican president Donald Trump contest the results, which could open the way for state legislatures, courts, or Congress to decide the outcome.
Telling voters to have faith in the democratic process while acknowledging that a landslide victory may be the only way to remove a defiant president is proving to be a delicate balancing act, more than a dozen government officials told Reuters. Democratic Party and Biden’s campaign advisers.
Trump has repeatedly and without proof stated that vote-by-mail is riddled with fraud and that the election is “rigged” in favor of the Democrats, and he has refused to pledge to cede power peacefully if he loses.
Democratic traders said they are concerned that amplifying Trump’s claims could backfire and lower turnout by leading Biden voters to believe their votes will not be counted.
What has emerged is an approach that aims to emphasize the power voters have to get Trump out of the White House if they act early.
In Ohio, for example, David Pepper, head of the state Democratic Party, said his team is using Trump’s attacks on the vote to motivate Biden supporters to deliver their ballots immediately or to vote early in person.
“We’re telling people, ‘Listen to what he’s saying, go vote, you can stop him,'” Pepper said. “We are changing the narrative.”
Ohio election officials were overwhelmed by requests to vote by mail for the state’s presidential primary in April, when in-person voting was severely restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic. The ballots of some voters arrived too late.
Election officials say they are better prepared this time. Still, phone calls, emails, text messages, social media, and radio and television ads from Democrats are urging Ohio voters to vote now to “Make It Count.”
Polls show the race is tied in a state that Trump won by 8 percentage points four years ago.
The sense of urgency resonated with the Bjornards, a Columbus couple who brought their votes by hand to their local elections office. “I wanted to make sure they had enough time to process them,” said Eric Bjornard, who works for a robotics software company.
In Ohio, more than 2.4 million ballots have been requested by mail, double the 1.2 million as of the same date in 2016, according to the Ohio secretary of state.
Nationwide, 14.6 million people have already cast their vote by mail or in person, up from 1.4 million who had done so four years ago, according to the U.S. Elections Project, a site run by political scientist Michael McDonald. from the University of Florida that collects data on early voting.
Democrats appear to be driving much of that increase. In states that report party affiliation data, nearly twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans have applied for ballots. For example, more than 960,000 registered Florida Democrats have already returned their votes, compared to 564,000 Republicans.
PREPARING FOR A CONFLICTING ELECTION
Video: Marcelo Ebrard’s appearance in the Senate suspended (Dailymotion)
While early turnout is encouraging for Democrats, Biden’s campaign is preparing for the worst.
Democrats say their turnout campaign is especially crucial this year as Republicans seek to restrict voting by mail despite the pandemic, and both parties squabble over how votes are counted in key states.
Dozens of lawsuits have been filed in various states, many of them focused on vote-by-mail.
Biden’s campaign said it has built the largest electoral protection program in the history of the Democratic Party, including thousands of attorneys and volunteers across the country.
Dana Remus, chief campaign attorney, oversees a large team of attorneys with veteran Democratic attorney Bob Bauer, now a full-time campaign advisor.
The Trump campaign has also assembled a large legal team to prepare a closed result and oversee the voting process. The effort is being led by Matthew Morgan, campaign attorney general, and Justin Clark, deputy campaign manager and senior counsel.
Then there are the post-election preparations. Biden’s national legal team is examining a number of scenarios, including those in which Trump calls into question the integrity of a close race, campaign advisers said.
Among them is the possibility that a lengthy or contested vote-by-mail vote count could result in Republican-controlled legislatures in key states stepping in to give Trump their Electoral College vote.
The US presidency is secured by winning a majority of the 538 votes allotted to the 50 states and Washington DC in the Electoral College.
Governors typically certify the results in their respective states and share the information with Congress. But it is possible that voter disputes arise, in which the governor and legislature of a highly contested state could present two different outcomes.
The risk of this happening is greater in states where the legislature is controlled by a party other than the governor. Several contested states, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, have Democratic governors and Republican-controlled legislatures.
According to legal experts, it is unclear in this scenario whether Congress should accept the governor’s list or not count the state’s electoral votes at all.
The law governing the role of Congress in such a dispute – the Election Counting Act of 1887 – is unclear and “unproven,” said Lawrence Douglas, a law and elections scholar at Amherst College. “We would be in unknown territory.”
Those scenarios are much less likely, Democratic advisers said, if enough Americans make sure to vote before the election. Democrats who spoke to Reuters believe that the more votes that are counted and processed before November 3, the less chance Republicans will have to dispute the validity of the results.
Jennifer Holdsworth, a lawyer and Democratic strategist, said that if the Democrats vote en masse, “our legal job becomes easier.”
“If it’s a tight election, favor Trump,” he said. “For Democrats to avoid a stolen election … we need to make sure the vote is as overwhelming as possible.”
Biden’s lawyers are preparing responses for various scenarios and some “are ready to act if necessary,” said Bauer, the campaign’s senior advisor. He and Remus, the campaign’s attorney general, declined to discuss the contested election scenarios in detail, wary of messaging Republicans about potential problems.
“They are trying to wreak havoc and confusion and we are focused on not letting them do that,” Remus said. “By telling voters how to vote, how to ensure that their vote will be counted, and giving them confidence, we will move this election forward.”
Thea McDonald, the deputy national press secretary for Trump’s campaign, said it was Democrats, not Republicans, who created chaos by “irresponsibly” scaring people out of voting in person with their push to vote for mail.
“President Trump is absolutely right: Mass vote by mail is a recipe for chaos, confusion and disenfranchisement,” McDonald said in an email to Reuters. “In a free and fair election, President Trump wins hands down.”
McDonald noted that the allegations that Trump might not accept the election results were Democratic “conspiracy theories.”
Biden and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, have repeatedly urged people to vote early. During their recent debates with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, they refrained from discussing the president’s unfounded claims of a rigged election.
“Vote, vote, vote!” Biden said during his September 29 speech.