December 4, 2020

A Week Before Election Day, More Than Half the 2016 Vote Is Already In

A volunteer helps a woman complete an early ballot form outside of Philadelphia City Hall at the satellite polling station in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Credit…Mark Makela/Getty Images

With a week left until Election Day, the flood of people moved to cast their ballots early has grown so strong that the early vote has already exceeded half of the number of votes that were counted during the entire 2016 presidential election, according to data compiled by the United States Elections Project.

The coronavirus pandemic, the fear of postal delays and the passions inspired by the presidential candidates, both pro and con, have all contributed to the record early vote. As of Tuesday afternoon more than 69.5 million Americans had already mailed in their ballots or voted early in person, according to the data compiled by the project. That is 50.4 percent of the total number of votes that were counted during the entire 2016 election.

The early vote is even more dramatic in a number of key battleground states, including several that polls have suggested are unusually close this year. Texas has already received nearly 87 percent of the votes it counted in the 2016 election, Florida has already received more than two-thirds, North Carolina has received 72 percent and Georgia 71 percent. Wisconsin and Michigan are both approaching the halfway mark.

“The numbers are stunning,” Michael P. McDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida who gathers the data for the elections project, wrote in a recent analysis for the United States Elections Project, which tracks the early vote closely.

Not all states report the party affiliations of those who vote early. Those which do show a dichotomy in how the members of the two major parties choose to vote, though: Democrats have been much more likely to vote early by mail than Republicans, while Republicans have been a bit more likely to vote early in person than Democrats. President Trump has repeatedly railed against mail-in voting, making baseless claims that it is subject to fraud.

This trend means that the in-person vote reported on Election Day is more likely to show early Republican leads, and that Democrats may gain ground as absentee votes are tabulated in the days afterward.

Campaign officials and elections experts are still trying to determine the extent to which the high turnout so far reflects voters simply casting their ballots earlier than they normally would and to what extent it reflects high enthusiasm that could translate into a record turnout.

Dr. McDonald wrote in his analysis that the pace of early voting in some states suggests that they could surpass their 2016 vote totals this week.

Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, spoke at a drive-in rally at Cellairis Amphitheater in Atlanta on Tuesday.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. filled Democrats with hope and fear when he announced on Monday that he would be campaigning in Iowa and Georgia, in addition to more traditional end-of-race stops in Wisconsin and Florida.

As Mr. Biden campaigned on Tuesday in a region of Georgia that is filled with signs and flags supporting President Trump, nervous Democrats had unpleasant flashbacks to 2016, when Hillary Clinton famously invested resources and visited Arizona in the final days of the race, while failing to set foot in Wisconsin.

Risk-averse Democratic voters wondered: Why wasn’t Mr. Biden simply spending the rest of his waking hours until Nov. 3 living in Pennsylvania? There was no need to spike any footballs — just a need for the campaign to avoid losing.

The Trump campaign tried to paint Mr. Biden as overly confident, just as Mrs. Clinton was four years ago. “We encourage him to spend time and resources in Georgia, where the president is definitely going to win,” said Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign communications director. “He’s wasting time in states he can’t win.”

Meanwhile, the Trump campaign deployed Melania Trump, the first lady, to Atglen, Pa., a very rare campaign stop — the only one this year — for one of the president’s most popular surrogates, who doesn’t particularly like campaigning. Mr. Trump spent Tuesday shoring up support in states in the Midwest, with rallies in Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Other Democrats, however, said they were encouraged that the Biden campaign felt comfortable enough to devote resources to states like Georgia and Texas, forcing Mr. Trump’s campaign to use some of its limited cash to play defense in Georgia. And they noted that Mr. Biden appeared to be adding to his schedule states with important Senate seats where Democrats have a victory within reach.

The race between Senator Joni Ernst, Republican of Iowa, and her Democratic challenger, Theresa Greenfield, is the most expensive Senate race the state has ever seen. In Georgia, two well-funded Democratic candidates, Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock, are running competitive races for both of the state’s Senate seats.

The more important thing was that the Biden campaign was still spending on targeted ads in Pennsylvania and Florida.

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, was set to make two campaign stops in Arizona on Wednesday, pursuing his narrow path to victory. His campaign, however, noted that he will also travel this week to New Hampshire and Nevada, states Mrs. Clinton won four years ago.

Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas Mr. Abbott said his Oct. 1 order limiting ballot drop boxes to one per county enhanced election security. Democrats and voting rights groups fiercely criticized the move.
Credit…Mark Lambie/The El Paso Times, via Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas — In a victory for Gov. Greg Abbott, the all-Republican Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld his order to restrict Texas counties to only one drop-off site for mail-in ballots.

With Election Day less than a week away, the ruling gives Mr. Abbott, a Republican, what appears to be the last word in a legal battle that has meandered through both federal and state courts through much of October. The Supreme Court decision and a ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals this month overturned lower court rulings that sided with voting rights advocates who said Mr. Abbott’s order amounted to unconstitutional voter suppression.

“We knew it was coming,” said Susan Hays, legal counsel for the Harris County Clerk’s Office in Houston, which opposed the order. “We don’t expect anything to change between now and the election.”

Mr. Abbott said his Oct. 1 order limiting ballot drop boxes to one per county enhanced election security, and he maintained that he was expanding voter access by extending early voting from two to nearly three weeks, ending on Friday. But Democratic-backed lawsuits by civil rights groups and voting rights organizations contended that reducing the number of ballot drop-off sites imposed hardships on older and disabled Texans and increased voters’ potential risk of exposure to the coronavirus.

Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas, a Republican, issued a statement praising the ruling, saying the decision “rightfully bolsters the security of dropped-off ballots” and “preserved election integrity.”

But Democrats blasted the ruling and said it was an incentive to propel their voters to the polls.

“The Texas Republican Supreme Court continues to bend the law in any which way to secure Republican political power,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. “The only option for free and fair government is to vote Democrat all the way down the ballot.”

A screenshot from President Trump’s campaign website on Tuesday. The site was defaced for less than 30 minutes.

President Trump’s campaign website was briefly taken over by hackers who defaced the site on Tuesday.

The defacement lasted less than 30 minutes, but the incident came as Mr. Trump’s campaign and that of his opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., as well as law enforcement and intelligence agencies, have been on high alert for digital interference ahead of next week’s election.

In a statement, Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, confirmed the website’s defacement and said it was “working with law enforcement authorities to investigate the source of the attack.” He added, “There was no exposure to sensitive data because none of it is actually stored on the site. The website has been restored.”

The F.B.I. did not immediately comment on the incident. The defacement was first noted on Twitter by Gabriel Lorenzo Greschler, a journalist at the Jewish News of Northern California, while researching an article on climate change.

It was not clear whether the defacement was the work of foreign hackers or cybercriminals. But in a screed posted to Mr. Trump’s website — donaldjtrump.com — the hackers claimed to have compromised “multiple devices” that gave them access to the president and his relatives “most internal and secret conversations,” including classified information.

The hackers also accused the Trump administration, without proof, of having a hand in the origins of the coronavirus and cooperating with “foreign actors manipulating the 2020 elections.”

The hackers appeared to be looking to generate cryptocurrency. They invited visitors to donate cryptocurrency to one of two funds — one labeled “Yes, share the data,” the other labeled “No, Do not share the data.” They solicited payments in Monero, a hard-to-trace cryptocurrency.

“After the deadline, we will compare the funds and execute the will of the world,” they wrote, without specifying a deadline. The hackers also posted what they said was their encryption key to Mr. Trumps’ campaign site. The key corresponded to an email address at a nonexistent internet site.

Though the defacement appeared to be part of a common cryptocurrency scam to get people to irreversibly donate money online, the incident took on added urgency one week before the election.

Intelligence agencies have been closely monitoring hacking groups, including teams backed by Iran and Russia, that have tried to break into election-related systems and have been involved in influence operations in recent weeks.

Last week, John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, identified Iran and Russia as two nations responsible for disinformation and some limited intrusions into voter registration databases.

He cited threatening emails, ostensibly from the far-right group the Proud Boys, that were sent to voters in Florida and elsewhere. But the emails relied on publicly-available information; no hacking was necessary. And they were written in broken English — as was the defaced Trump website.

Last week, Mr. Trump told a campaign rally in Tucson, Ariz.: “Nobody gets hacked. To get hacked you need somebody with 197 I.Q. and he needs about 15 percent of your password.”

Julian E. Barnes, Adam Goldman and David E. Sanger contributed reporting.