The two tiers of activity underscore something important: Even as Trump does all he can to corrupt and malign vote-by-mail, a tremendous amount is riding on how Democrats concretely execute the nuts and bolts of it, both in the courts and in terms of getting out the vote.
The Biden campaign will be investing at least 100 million dollars in a voter-education program that is heavily focused on communicating about how to vote by mail and in person, with a special emphasis on getting voters to vote early as possible, according to a Biden campaign official.
“It’s probably the most important thing that our field program is doing,” Jenn Ridder, the Biden campaign’s states director, told me.
This will include mailers and digital communications and possibly TV and radio advertising, Ridder says. The first wave is set to start in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Georgia and Virginia, where voting is getting underway very soon.
There are several very challenging hurdles ahead for the Biden campaign. One concerns how to navigate the difficulty of communicating the procedural steps voters will need to take — whether in voting by mail or voting early in person — without making voting look prohibitively daunting.
The Biden campaign has conducted polling and created focus groups to better understand how to address this challenge, Ridder tells me. The result is that the campaign believes focusing on communicating that voters have a range of options, without conveying the impression of insurmountable complexity, is the difficult balance that must be struck.
The challenge, Ridder said, is to communicate to voters that “we can talk you through how to vote,” while making sure that voting “doesn’t look so hard that they don’t want to vote.”
Looming in the background of this is a seriously complicated series of factors.
First, as CNN reports, some Democrats are increasingly worried that Trump’s constant attacks on vote-by-mail, combined with questionably motivated U.S. Postal Service changes and expected Republican efforts to invalidate mail ballots, have rendered Democratic voters reluctant to take a chance on this mode of voting. So some Democrats have begun emphasizing that voting in person remains an option.
But the Biden campaign isn’t trying to steer voters away from vote-by-mail and toward in-person voting; instead, it is emphasizing that voters have “options” to ease such anxieties so they don’t dissuade voting.
“We feel confident that people will be able to vote by mail if they so choose,” Ridder told me. “We’re really focused on making sure people understand their options. And that they vote early is the most important piece.”
This is the sort of mailer that the Biden campaign is sending out in order to communicate along those lines:
Another big complication the Biden campaign faces is that coronavirus has led the campaign to suspend traditional in-person canvassing, a typical way that such get-out-the-vote organizing is done.
The Trump campaign and Republicans have continued with such efforts, and some Democrats fear this is costing the Biden campaign a big chance to directly connect with voters. This is a worry especially because get-out-the-vote organizing often requires repeated contacts to be effective.
Ridder acknowledged that the lack of canvassing poses new challenges, but told me: “We’re definitely going to be calling and texting and finding every way that we can go back and back and back.”
So texting, digital ads, mailers and other communications are going to supplement traditional organizing when it comes to getting people to vote by mail or vote in person safely, and above all, to vote early. It’s another way in which the pandemic has entirely upended our politics, and it remains to be seen what the fallout will be.