Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Democrats have outvoted Republicans in Florida in vote-by-mail ballots by a margin of over 400,000 as of 11am on Wednesday, according to state election data.

Why it matters: This is the first time Democrats have led over Republicans during this stage of an election, though states are expecting an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots due to the pandemic. Typically, Republicans are ahead by a slight margin in absentee ballot returns, according to Politico.

Yes, but: Republican officials say they are confident they can catch up by Election Day.

  • “Voting in Florida is a marathon. And what you’re seeing is a bit of a sprint from the Democrats,” the director of Trump's campaign in Florida, Susie Wiles, told Politico.
  • "But we have far more high-propensity voters on our side. That should be noted in all the hype about the Democrats’ lead. We’re not finished. We’re turning our sights to early in-person voting and to Election Day.

The big picture: President Trump has publicly attacked mail-in-voting, calling it fraudulent and baselessly claiming the election will be "rigged" because states that don't usually conduct vote-by-mail elections have adopted new pandemic-era systems.

  • In Florida, however, Trump has encouraged his supporters to vote by mail because "they’ve been doing this over many years, and they’ve made it really terrific."
  • House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy told Axios that Republicans "could lose" as a result of Trump's war on mail-in voting, saying that he's spent hours telling the president that this preoccupation will hurt his own re-election chances.

The bottom line: Florida, which Trump won in 2016 but looks to be a competitive race in 2020, is crucial to his re-election chances. Since 1996, every presidential candidate that has won Florida has won the election.

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Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules mail-in ballots can't be rejected for mismatched signatures

Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Friday that election officials cannot reject a mailed-in ballot because a voter’s signature may not resemble the one on their registration form.

Why it matters: The decision comes as a win for voting rights advocates and Democrats who say the signature disqualification rule can disenfranchise voters. In 2016, it was the top reason that ballots were rejected, with 28% of disqualified ballots flagged for non-matching signatures, according to the Election Assistance Commission.

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.