The Note: Early vote explosion show system working, with stress tests ahead

Days before the election, voters have smashed early voting records.

October 30, 2020, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

It's happening the way it's supposed to happen. Voters are voting -- smashing records, adjusting behaviors and recalibrating expectations -- in ways that show the nation is many things, but definitely not apathetic.

It's also happening in ways that will stress the systems built to account for it all. More early votes, oddly, will mean reporting out results will take longer in several critical states -- to say nothing of the continuing challenges of participating in and administering an election in the midst of a pandemic.

Amid a flurry of COVID-era campaigning in battleground states, this week brought new high-water marks that suggest turnout records will fall this year.

Nearly as many Texans have voted as in all of 2016, with Georgia, North Carolina, Florida and Arizona are among the states already three-quarters of the way there, according to the U.S. Elections Project at the University of Florida.

Voters wait in line to enter a polling place and cast their ballots on the first day of the state's in-person early voting for the general elections in Durham, North Carolina, Oct. 15, 2020.
Jonathan Drake/Reuters

But this week also brought continued uncertainties about the process of voting. The Supreme Court now has nine justices again, and voters in states, including Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and North Carolina have a right to be confused about what the law is when it comes to how to vote -- and even what those laws might be on Election Day and beyond.

Layered on top of all of that are the efforts by President Donald Trump to sow doubts about the integrity of the election.

From the local level on up, election officials say they're confident that there will be an accurate -- and, hopefully, promptly tallied -- vote count.

But the surge of voting, while good for democracy, figures to make everything more difficult during this most difficult of times for the country.

The RUNDOWN with Benjamin Siegel

President Trump's comments this week that he hopes courts stop states from counting absentee and mail-in ballots after Election Day has advocates for service members overseas worried.

"Hopefully, the few states remaining that want to take a lot of time after Nov. 3 to count ballots, that won't be allowed by the various courts," he said at a press conference.

While it's not clear what universe of ballots he was referring to -- the Trump campaign did not immediately respond to an email seeking clarification -- Republican officials in several states have asked the Supreme Court to take up whether they should consider ballots received after Election Day.

More than two dozen states receive absentee ballots from overseas service members within a certain time frame after Election Day, according to Count Every Hero, an advocacy group led by retired generals and admirals.

An election official waits for people to vote at a polling station located in the Morgan State University in Baltimore during early voting in Maryland, Oct. 26, 2020.
Hannah Mckay/Reuters

"It's going to take some time to count these ballots," Scott Cooper, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and spokesman for the group, said. "We need to have faith in the process."

"To think that someone is out there on the corners of the Earth, defending our country, wouldn't have their ballot counted because we wouldn't have the patience to make sure that every legitimate ballot is counted, that's tragic," said Cooper, who served as a voting assistance officer in the Marines and also considered a run for Congress as a Democrat in 2019.

Pennsylvania Secretary of the Commonwealth Kathy Boockvar on Thursday noted the extended timeline for military and overseas ballots when asked about the Supreme Court's refusal to determine before Nov. 3 whether Pennsylvania should receive and count absentee ballots three days after the election -- a move that left the extension in place.

"I want to count every one of those people that serve," she said.

The TIP with Kendall Karson

The battle for the White House aside, both parties are bracing for a suspenseful fight over the Senate -- with the chamber viewed on both sides as a first line of defense against the other party winning the nation's highest office. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that control of the Senate is "a 50/50 proposition."

Biden will visit Iowa just four days before Election Day, providing an eleventh-hour boost to Theresa Greenfield, the Democrat seeking to topple Republican Sen. Joni Ernst. The race between the two women is neck-and-neck, a new Quinnipiac poll found this week. And in Michigan, where the GOP has put its hopes on John James, a rising star competing for a Senate seat for the second time, Democratic Sen. Gary Peters is ahead by eight points in a different New York Times/Siena College poll.

A small group of demonstrators protests outside the US Capitol on the early morning of Sept. 21, 2020 in Washington.
Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

For the GOP, the prospect of keeping control has dimmed in the election's closing months. Recent polling shows both races in Georgia, which was once reliably red, heading into runoffs and a new poll from The New York Times/Siena College shows Sen. Thom Tillis, a first-term Republican, straggling behind Democrat Cal Cunningham in North Carolina.

Still, Democrats' climb to the majority is no easy task, with Alabama Sen. Doug Jones likely to lose his seat, they will need to win four seats to retake control, or five if Trump wins the White House.


ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Friday morning's episode features ABC News Chief National Affairs correspondent Tom Llamas, who tells us about Joe Biden and President Donald Trump's dueling campaign rallies in Florida Thursday and why the state will be so important on election night. ABC News Chief Business and Economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis breaks down the third quarter economic data. And, ABC News foreign correspondent Maggie Rulli joins us from Nice, France, where a terror attack has claimed the lives of three people.


  • President Donald Trump will deliver remarks at three rallies Friday -- one in Waterford Township, Michigan, at 1:30 p.m., another in Green Bay, Wisconsin, at 2:30 p.m. and the last in Rochester, Minnesota, at 5 p.m. CT. Saturday, Trump will speak at three rallies in Pennsylvania -- one in Bucks County at 1:30 p.m., another in Reading, Pennsylvania, at 4 p.m. and the last in Butler, Pennsylvania, at 7 p.m.
  • Vice President Mike Pence will speak at two rallies Friday -- one in Flagstaff, Arizona, at 2:30 p.m. and another in Tucson, Arizona, at 5:30 p.m.
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden will deliver remarks at a drive-in event on Friday at 3:45 p.m. CT in St. Paul, Minnesota. He will also speak in Des Moines, Iowa, and then deliver remarks at a drive-in event in Milwaukee at 6:30 p.m. CT. On Saturday, Biden and former President Barack Obama will campaign together in Michigan.
  • Sen. Kamala Harris will travel to Fort Worth, McAllen and Houston, Texas on Friday. On Saturday, she will travel to Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Florida, to encourage Floridians to vote.
  • Dr. Jill Biden will host an education worker mobilization event Friday at 5 p.m. in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. On Saturday, she will campaign in Greensboro and Charlotte, North Carolina.
  • Doug Emhoff will travel to Las Vegas, Nevada Friday. He will campaign in Virginia on Saturday.
  • Sunday on ABC's "This Week": ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos goes one-on-one with Biden campaign senior adviser Anita Dunn. Plus, the Powerhouse Roundtable discusses all the week's politics with former New Jersey governor and ABC News Contributor Chris Christie, former Chicago mayor and ABC News Contributor Rahm Emanuel, Republican strategist and ABC News Contributor Sara Fagen and former Democratic National Committee Chair and Fox News Contributor Donna Brazile.

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The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the day's top stories in politics. Please check back Monday for the latest.

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