Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Democrats spent the early months of the coronavirus pandemic urging their base to vote absentee. 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.

Why it matters: Democrats are exponentially more likely to vote by mail than Republicans this year — and if enough mail-in ballots are lost, rejected on a technicality or undercounted, it could change the outcome of the presidential election or other key races.

Driving the news: In Colorado, former Gov. John Hickenlooper, who's running against Sen. Cory Gardner, told Axios that he's encouraging voters to physically take their mail-in ballots to a dropbox and to do so "early, really early."

  • Paulette Jordan, a Democratic candidate for Senate in Idaho, told Axios that she's encouraging voters to take their filled out mail ballots in person to the county courthouse.
  • Black PAC has moved from exclusively educating voters on voting by mail to informing about all available options: in-person, absentee, early voting and voting on Election Day.
  • The Collective PAC — the largest Black-led political action committee targeting Black voters and candidates — is pivoting, too. "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 pivot is reflected by Barack and Michelle Obama, both of whom have been encouraging Democrats not just to vote by mail, but to vote early any way they can, including in person.

Biden campaign officials say they've always encouraged people to vote however they are most comfortable, and that they've never exclusively stressed one method 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,” said Jenn Ridder, national states director for the Biden campaign.
  • "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."  

But there are signs of potential trouble given the volume of absentee voting that's expected this year:

  • A fresh Pennsylvania state Supreme Court ruling could impact tens of thousands of ballots in that swing state.
  • In Florida, voters are twice as likely to have their absentee ballot rejected if they've never voted that way before, University of Florida political science professor Dan Smith told Axios.
  • In North Carolina, "Black voters’ ballots are being rejected at more than four times the rate of white voters," per FiveThirtyEight. Overall, data shows new, younger, Black and Hispanic voters are more likely to have their ballots rejected. 
  • More than 550k mail-in ballots were rejected during the presidential primaries this year, per an NPR analysis.

Meanwhile, masks, gloves, sanitizer and bleach wipes are more widely available than in the initial months of the pandemic.

  • Elections officials have had longer to prepare for crowd management than during the primaries. And Americans without underlying health issues and pre-existing
    conditions have become more accustomed to social distancing and taking measured risks as they navigate public spaces such as grocery stores.

Flashback: The messaging pivot had begun by the start of the Democratic National Convention.

  • Michelle Obama told voters, "We've got to vote early, in person if we can," even if it means wearing masks and "comfortable shoes" and packing "a brown bag dinner and maybe breakfast too."
  • "If you can, vote early, in person or by mail," Barack Obama said in an Instagram post this month.
  • Last week, Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, voted in person one day before Delaware's primary.
  • On the first day of early in-person voting in Virginia, long lines formed quickly with voters waiting two hours or more to cast a ballot.

Go deeper:

New interactive tool shows Biden's mail voting danger

Go deeper

Updated Oct 20, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on America's voting barriers

On Tuesday, October 23, Axios' Sara Kehaulani Goo, Margaret Talev, and Alexi McCammond hosted a virtual event on barriers to voting access across the country, featuring Southwest Voter Registration Education Project President Lydia Camarillo, U.S. Election Assistance Commission Chairman Benjamin Hovland, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition President Desmond Meade and "The West Wing" actors Janel Moloney and Richard Schiff.

Benjamin Hovland unpacked how to vote safely during this unprecedented year and highlighted the uptick in mail-in ballots and early voting.

  • On a notable increase in early ballots being cast: "We're seeing a surge in early in-person voting...We're already at around 30 million Americans that have already voted in the 2020 election, which is pretty remarkable."
  • On the impact of the pandemic on mail-in ballots: "About 25% of Americans vote by mail in a normal year, or in 2016. So we're going to see an increase probably closer to half."

Lydia Camarillo discussed the importance of the Latino electorate in American elections.

  • The impact on November's election: "I think that the Latino electorate can be the deciding factor in this election — in partnership with other groups like the Black community, the Muslim community, Asian American community and progressives. They will decide the election."

Desmond Meade, who helped lead the 2018 fight for Amendment 4 in Florida, unpacked the expansion of voting rights and Florida's impact on similar state-level policy changes across the country.

  • On restoring felon rights: "This thing has caught on like a wildfire. All across this country, people are really standing up. Because America is a nation of second chances. And it's showing up right now in a major way."

Janel Moloney and Richard Schiff discussed the recent "The West Wing" episode on HBO Max and the experience of reuniting as an ensemble cast.

  • Richard Schiff on the meaning of the episode: "It's a rare thing in this day and age around the world to have the privilege to vote and the right to vote. And we should be very careful to not let it be extinguished and that this episode addresses that."

Axios Vice President of Event Kristin Burkhalter hosted a View from the Top segment with Lyft Head of Policy Engagement and Strategic Partnerships Heather Foster who discussed how transportation plays a critical role in voting access.

  • "We took a look at the statistics that came out of 2016, and it was estimated at the time that more than 15 million eligible voters did not go to the polls because they lacked a way to get there."

This event was the first in a yearlong series called Hard Truths, where we'll be discussing the wide ranging impact of systemic racism in America. Read our deep dive on race and voting here.

Thank you Lyft for sponsoring this event.

First day of N.Y. early voting sees massive turnout

New York began its early voting period on Saturday, prompting long lines with people waiting to cast their ballots.

The big picture: America has seen an uptick in mail-in and early voting this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Social distancing and poll-worker shortages could make voting on Election Day a lengthy and potentially chaotic process, but early voting measures have still seen backlogs.

Trump casts ballot in Florida ahead of massive campaign weekend

President Trump. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump cast his ballot in Florida on Saturday ahead of a jam-packed weekend of campaigning just 10 days ahead of the general election.

The big picture: Trump registered as a Florida voter in 2018, citing his Mar-a-Lago residence. His in-person vote comes amid a massive uptick in mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic, but Trump argues mail-in voting is typically unsafe and ripe for fraud.