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Early voting patterns in Ohio, North Carolina and Minnesota

With just under two weeks remaining before voting in the 2020 presidential election ends, we turn to the view from three battleground states. North Carolina Public Radio’s Jeff Tiberii, Ohio Public Radio and Television’s Karen Kasler and Mary Lahammer of Twin Cities PBS in Minnesota join Judy Woodruff to discuss the voter behavior they are seeing in their states -- and what’s motivating it.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    With just under two weeks left before voting ends on Election Day, we turn now to the view from three battleground states.

    I'm joined now by Jeff Tiberii of North Carolina Public Radio, Karen Kasler of Ohio Public Radio and Television, and Mary Lahammer of Twin Cities PBS in Minnesota.

    Hello to both of you — all three of you. It's great to have you back with us again.

    And before I come to you, I want to remind everybody just how high the stakes are in this election.

    Tonight, as I'm talking to you, President Obama is out making his first appearance on the campaign trail on behalf of Joe Biden. He's at drive-in event in Philadelphia.

    And we want to let everybody hear just a part of what he had to say, some pretty tough words about President Trump, just moments ago.

  • Former President Barack Obama:

    Right now, as we speak, Trump won't even extend relief to the millions of families who are having trouble paying the rent or putting food on the table because of this pandemic.

    But he's been doing all right by himself. As it turns out — this was just reported in the last 48 hours — we know that he continues to do business with China, because he's got a secret Chinese bank account.

    How is that possible? How is that possible? A secret Chinese bank account. Listen, can you imagine if I had had a secret Chinese bank account?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, that's former President Obama just moments ago trying to gin out — gin up voters for Joe Biden in Philadelphia in the crucial battleground state of Pennsylvania.

    But I want to talk to the three of you about the battleground states you represent, and start with you, Karen Kasler, in Ohio.

    This is a state that Donald Trump won by, what, eight points in 2016. Tell us, first of all, what it looks like in terms of early voting, absentee voting. And does either party have an advantage?

  • Karen Kasler:

    Well, early voting has been huge in Ohio.

    New numbers that came out yesterday showed 1.1 million Ohioans have either sent in absentee ballots or have cast votes in person. That's 119 percent more than did at this point in 2016; 440,000 people have voted in-person. That's a 266 percent increase, which we're seeing in cities with long lines.

    And, also, when you ask about absentee ballot requests, there are about 2.7 million Ohioans. One in three of all of the eight million registered voters in Ohio have asked for absentee ballots. And, right now, those — most of those are unaffiliated. These are people who have not voted in a primary.

    But Democrats have been returning those in big numbers. Those people who are affiliated with the Democratic Party are returning those in huge numbers. And that potentially sets up an interesting scenario on Election Day, because you have Republicans saying they're going to vote in-person on Election Day.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So interesting.

    And to North Carolina, another really truly hard-fought battleground state.

    Jeff Tiberii, this is a state Trump, Donald Trump, won by 3.5 points or so against Hillary Clinton four years ago. What does it look like there with regard to the early vote with regard to Democratic energy?

  • Jeff Tiberii:


    So, it is much tighter right now than it was — we forecast that it's going to be much tighter than it was four years ago. You mentioned that Donald Trump did win here four years ago. And every Democrat has lost here going back to Jimmy Carter, with the exception of President Obama in 2008. He carried the state by 14,000 votes.

    So, historically, as we think about the last four decades or so, this has been a state that has trended to the right, trended red. But in all of the polls across the last eight, 10 weeks, Joe Biden has either had a small lead, within the margin of error. Some of the leads have been just outside of the margin of error.

    So, this is seen as a key battleground. And from the Republican and Democratic strategists who I have spoken to throughout the year, it is more central to a Donald Trump reelection than it is a Joe Biden path to the White House, which is to say, Joe Biden can probably get to the White House without carrying North Carolina, but Trump has to carry Carolina if he's going to get another four years.

    As for those early voting figures, we have seen just a huge outpouring of early voting and also mail-in ballots. About one-third of registered voters have voted as of this afternoon here in North Carolina.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Seeing a big surge in early voting there.

    And, in Minnesota, Mary Lahammer, this is a state Donald Trump lost by, what, about a point-and-a-half. But he has since said he's since determined to win it this time.

    But give us a sense of what the state looks like right now.

  • Mary Lahammer:

    Yes, it seems as if President Trump is almost on a personal mission to win Minnesota.

    Four years ago, he didn't visit very often. He didn't have a lot of troops on the ground, didn't spend a lot of money. This year, four years later, very different, a lot of folks on the ground, a lot of money being spent. And the polls are still averaging really well ahead for Joe Biden at this point, but that doesn't mean Donald Trump hasn't come here repeatedly.

    We have seen several visits. In fact, we had a visit to Duluth, Minnesota, a day before he was diagnosed with the coronavirus. And not long before that, we actually had Trump and Biden here on the very same day, the first time that's ever happened in Minnesota history, to have both major presidential candidates here.

    And perhaps that's being reflected in our early voting numbers. We expect to surpass one million early votes. And we only have about four million voters, so that's about a fourth of the votes already in. We are a state that is very proud of leading the nation in voter turnout. We had about 75 percent turnout last time around.

    The latest projections have Minnesota going perhaps 80, 82, 83 percent voter turnout, something we haven't done here in half-a-century. We also haven't voted for a Republican here in Minnesota since Nixon. So, it's very interesting, historic times in Minnesota.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot of interest in the election across the country.

    Karen Kasler, in Ohio, back to you.

    What about the pandemic and the role it's playing? I know Ohio is one of the states that is seeing the cases — number of cases climb. How much is that driving voter decision about who to vote for? What's on the mind of voters?

  • Karen Kasler:

    I think COVID and the economy. Those are the two things. The economy is always a big factor in Ohio elections.

    But I think this year, when you pair it with COVID, then you definitely get that mix that is driving people to vote. Ohio is a state that Trump, experts say, has to win, but Biden doesn't have to win. But it's not a state that necessarily people thought that Biden was going to be competitive in because of 2016. As you mentioned, Trump won by eight points.

    And in 2018, there were some pockets of blue activity, but not nearly at the statewide level. But then this COVID crisis has hit. And so you have more than — almost two-thirds of Ohio restaurants say that they're probably not going to reopen after the pandemic. That's a big deal to a lot of people.

    And so I think it's driving part of what's happening here. And we are seeing these huge numbers, again, Democrat-affiliated voters, Democratic-affiliated voters driving them. But unaffiliated voters are still the majority of voters in Ohio. And there's no guarantee that, just because somebody is affiliated with a particular party, that they are going to vote for that party's candidate.

    So, we are lucky in Ohio that our state does cast and count its absentee ballots fairly quickly on election night. We can start processing those, though the results can't come out until election night.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    To North Carolina, to Jeff Tiberii.

    What about the pandemic there? What does it look like? What is driving voters' preferences?

  • Jeff Tiberii:

    You know, it's a really good question. And we hear different narratives. We hear competing narratives from the Republicans and the Democrats.

    And it very much has been tethered to what we're hearing from the presidential candidates and in the U.S. Senate race here, which is a very important one, could signal which power — which party has power in the next Congress, as well as state legislative races, but really on down the line.

    When it comes to the Republican side of things, we're hearing a lot about law and order, and we're hearing criminal — public safety and the need for a continued investment in law enforcement.

    And Democrats here, by and large, have said that's not the real issue, that's not the issue that's going to mobilize North Carolina voters. And they pretty regularly have pivoted to additional funding for education here in the state, response to the pandemic, and they say, most importantly, health care.

    They think that that is what's really going to indicate where the unaffiliated voters break here in the coming weeks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally, to you, Mary Lahammer in Minnesota, how is the pandemic affecting voters?

  • Mary Lahammer:

    An enormous issue here.

    We are now trending with the rest of the Midwest, and cases are spiking. We are reaching record or near record death rates here. So, definitely, the coronavirus is a large issue. And health care is always a big issue in Minnesota.

    We are home to the world-famous largest clinic in the world in Mayo Clinic, number one hospital in America. So, that's a huge employer. One of our top employers is health care across the state. HMOs started here. We have lots of health care management employers and employees in our state, so health care is always incredibly dominant.

    But the other issue, of course, racial justice. George Floyd was killed here in Minnesota, so that issue started here, racial justice. And now also law and order, rural Republicans are definitely saying that's the major issue they're hearing outside the metro.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Such an important race in every single one of these states.

    And we thank each one of you for joining us tonight, Mary Lahammer, Jeff Tiberii, and, of course, Karen Kasler in Ohio.

    Thank you, all three. We will see you soon.

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