Any problems with the early vote are also likely to affect Democrats more than Republicans. In almost every state, Democrats have requested absentee ballots at a higher rate than Republicans. In Pennsylvania, nearly two million registered Democrats requested absentee ballots, compared with fewer than 790,000 Republicans. And while 70 percent of those Democratic voters have returned their ballots, roughly 590,000 ballots sent to registered Democratic voters have not yet been returned, along with 360,000 ballots sent to registered Republicans.
The process has been further disrupted by a wave of litigation that has often pitted Democrats fighting to expand access to absentee voting against Republicans seeking tighter restrictions. Lawsuits have, among other issues, disrupted ballot deadlines in key states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and sought to limit the use of drop boxes in Pennsylvania and Texas. Court rulings were coming as late as Thursday night, just days before the election.
For Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court left open a possibility of a future ruling on ballots that are postmarked by Election Day but arrive late, and the secretary of state told all county election officials to segregate those ballots.
Worries about the U.S. Postal Service have added to the anxiety. The agency said in a filing that staffing issues resulting from the pandemic were causing problems in some facilities, including in central Pennsylvania. Only 78 percent of employees are available, according to the filing.
John Bloom, a voter in Cumberland County, near Harrisburg, said he and roughly 30 others were planning to head to the polls on Election Day to void the ballots they had requested and vote in person after seeing suggestions on social media from local Democratic officials.
“People are very worried that our mail-in votes, which likely will contain a good portion of the county’s Democratic vote, will not get counted,” Mr. Bloom said.
Kathy Boockvar, the secretary of state in Pennsylvania, said the state was expecting a large surge of ballots to arrive in the final days. Nearly 50 percent of the absentee ballots during the primary were returned in the final week, including almost 175,000 on the day before the primary.