In Madison, Wis., thousands of people have gone to parks to deliver their ballots during Saturday voting festivals. In Milwaukee, Facebook feeds are inundated with selfies of Democrats inserting ballots into drop boxes. And along the shores of Lake Superior, voters in Wisconsin’s liberal northwest corner still trust the Postal Service to deliver ballots.
Of all the mini-battlegrounds within Wisconsin — perhaps the most pivotal state in November for both President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr. — the mother lode of absentee ballots is coming in Dane County, a Democratic stronghold that includes Madison. As of Friday, the number of submitted ballots there amounted to more than 36 percent of the county’s total 2016 election vote, a sign of significant enthusiasm; that figure is 10 percentage points higher than in any other county in the state.
In Wisconsin’s Republican heartland, the suburban counties that ring Milwaukee, the absentee turnout is only at about the state average so far. And in the dozens of rural counties where President Trump won huge victories four years ago, ballots are being returned at a far slower rate than in the state’s Democratic areas.
The yawning disparities in voting across Wisconsin and several other key battlegrounds so far are among the clearest signs yet this fall that the Democratic embrace of absentee voting is resulting in head starts for the party ahead of Election Day. For Republicans, the voting patterns underscore the huge bet they are placing on high turnout on Nov. 3, even as states like Wisconsin face safety concerns at polling sites given the spikes in coronavirus cases.
The Democratic enthusiasm to vote is not limited to Wisconsin. Ballot return data from heavily Democratic cities like Pittsburgh; Chapel Hill, N.C.; and Tampa, Fla., and the long lines of cars waiting at a Houston arena to drop off ballots, are signs that many voters have followed through on their intentions to cast ballots well ahead of Nov. 3.
There is still time for Republicans to catch up in many places, and they are expected to vote in strong numbers in person on Election Day. And untold numbers of absentee ballots could be rejected for failing to fulfill requirements, like witness signatures, or could face legal challenges. But in states that have begun accepting absentee ballots, Democrats have built what appears to be a sizable advantage, after years when Republicans were usually more likely to vote by mail.