Should Democrats worry about absentee ballots?

Early Returns

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Early-voting maven Michael McDonald has been running evaluations of the vote so far every weekend, and if you want to understand what's happening it's a must-read. This week he added a prediction: "I predict in the coming weeks the Democratic narrative will change from euphoria over the apparent large leads in early voting to concern that a disproportionately large number of younger voters have yet to return their mail ballots."

Safe bet — at least, it's a safe be that Democrats will be panicking about something. If it's not the lower ballot-return rate from younger voters, it will be that more mail-in than in-person ballots wind up disqualified, or perhaps just that former Vice President Joe Biden's current very large lead over President Donald Trump will slide back to being just a large lead. Democrats always are on the verge of panic, and after Trump won in 2016 despite being behind in the polls (but nowhere near as far behind as he is now) that's only going to make them more insecure.

To be sure: Trump certainly could win — some events we can't predict could still, even now, change things. But as for these particular worries (or, perhaps, hopes from the Republican side): There's not much here.

As McDonald explains, it's simply the normal pattern for older absentee voters to return their ballots promptly and younger voters to take more time. Democratic campaigns are trying to change that, but it won't be a surprise if they aren't entirely successful, even if they eventually meet their turnout goals.

On the question of disqualified ballots: It's true that more absentee ballots are knocked out (although in many states it's not hard to track one's ballot and make corrections). But on the other hand, absentee ballots that are in are in; they're not going to forget that it's Election Day, or have something come up, or decide at the last minute that in-person is too scary, or see a three-hour line at the polling place and get discouraged and leave. We don't know what all of that adds up to, but it could easily exceed the disqualified ballot rate. It's also an advantage that the fewer Election Day voters remain, the easier it is for a campaign's get-out-the-vote operations. The bottom line: If absentee voting wasn't a net plus, there wouldn't be a long history in both parties of encouraging it.

As for the current lead shrinking? It's certainly better for a candidate to have a 10 percentage point lead, as Biden does now, than the 7 point lead he had two weeks ago — and it's very possible that some of that surge is either an illusion caused by a temporary difference in how eager people are to answer polls, or a real but temporary reaction to recent events. The problem for Trump remains that he probably needs to get closer than 6 percentage points nationally, and so far he's been unable to do that. Of course, it's also possible that Biden's recent surge is neither an illusion nor temporary, in which case we're headed for the biggest landslide in decades.

1. Joshua P. Darr at Mischiefs of Faction on the Trump and Biden get-out-the-vote plans.

2. Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili and Colleen Wood on the election in Kyrgyzstan.

3. Amy Walter on how Trump's basic strategy made his re-election so difficult.

4. Paul Kane on congressional reform.

5. Matthew Dallek on Trump and science.

6. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Francis Wilkinson on the nonexistent Republican policy agenda.

7. And John F. Harris and Daniel Lippman on the White House that can't shoot straight.

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