WASHINGTON -- Long lines. Electronic tablets failing. Last-minute legal haggling. Delayed results because of a surge in absentee balloting. And a president casting doubt over the whole "rigged" process.
As Joe Biden expands his national and state polling lead over Donald Trump, Democrats can't shake this nightmare November scenario: That even a Biden advantage heading into Election Day could be nullified by chaos at the polls, layered by added confusion around the fast-changing voting laws that officials are adjusting for an ongoing pandemic.
"The thing that I am probably most concerned about," Biden campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon acknowledged to former Barack Obama campaign manager David Plouffe on his podcast recently, "is voting in this country." It's risen to such a priority that she indicated the campaign is debating running ads explicitly on voter education.
Even before voter accessibility was seen as arguably the most significant potential hurdle to a successful election year for Democrats, party officials had been taking steps to avoid -- or at least reduce -- chances for such an abominable ordeal, with early staffing and new technology to pinpoint and remedy problems.
Incidents that materialized during this spring's messy primaries in states like Georgia, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania heightened the unease, but also served as valuable training ground for what's to come this fall.
"What I worry about is going into an election 3-4-5 points up ... that could be impacted in close swing states if people don't have the ability to cast votes," said Dan Kanninen, a strategist who has worked for Mike Bloomberg and Obama.
A fleet of Democratic-aligned and nonpartisan groups are raising awareness, lobbying state and county policymakers and instigating lawsuits to enhance voting access. The Democratic National Committee demonstrated its commitment to the issue earlier than ever before by beginning staffing its voter protection team back in April of 2019.
Whereas the party traditionally ramps up these efforts in the fall before the election, this cycle the DNC has been preparing for challenges at the ballot box for more than a year, dedicating voter protection directors to states like Virginia and Pennsylvania last year. At present, they have them in 19 states.
The coronavirus has ensured this election will look different regardless. But new pressure on financially strapped states to safely administer elections as older, veteran polling workers opt to stay home to protect their health is causing fresh problems.
"I think the thought was, maybe, well, we're going to mail ballots, so more people will vote by mail and we don't need as many in-person voting locations. I think what you've seen in Georgia and Nevada specifically is that that's not true," said Reyna Walters-Morgan, the DNC's director of voter protection. "You can't replace in person voting locations. You have to have enough in-person voting options available because even if you do mail those ballots, people are still going to show up."