In an unusual election marked by legal war over who can vote and how and President Donald Trump's repeated allegations that mail voting is fraudulent, Democrats are turning their prime-time convention into a vehicle of voter education.
"Amidst the excitement and enthusiasm for this election, you've also heard about obstacles and misinformation and folks making it harder for you to cast a ballot," Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said at the start of Wednesday night's convention. "We need to ask ourselves, why don't they want us to vote — why is there so much effort to silence our voices? The answer is because when we vote, things change."
Harris, the Democratic nominee for vice president, urged voter to figure out this year's vote: "Each of us need a voting plan."
Hillary Clinton joined in later when she addressed the virtual convention.
"If you vote by mail, request your ballot now and send it back right away," she said during her address. "If you vote in person, do it early. Become a poll worker. Most of all, no matter what, vote."
Former President Barack Obama accused the president and Republicans of suppressing votes to remain in power.
"Here's the point. This president and those in power, those who benefit from keeping things the way they are, they're counting on your cynicism," he said. "They're hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote and to convince you that your vote does not matter. That is how they win."
The former president continued, urging early voting: "Do not let them take away your power, do not let them take away your democracy. Make a plan right now for how you're going to get involved and vote. Do it as early as you can, and tell your family and friends how they can vote too."
Voting experts say that voter education is critical to a successful 2020 election, because election policies are changing so quickly and so many voters are unfamiliar with voting by mail. Election officials who typically inform voters are overwhelmed and resource-strapped.
"Even the most frequent and educated of voters are reasonably confused," Wendy Weiser, vice president of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, told NBC News. "You cannot overdo the voter education this year."
Weiser said Trump's inaccurate claims that mail balloting leads to significant voter fraud were damaging public confidence in elections.
"The changes brought by coronavirus has created the need for increased public education, but so has the president’s misdirection and attempts to sow confusion," she said.
Studies show that first-time mail voters and voters of color are more likely to see their ballots rejected than regular mail voters.
On Monday night, former first lady Michelle Obama also urged voters to vote early and carefully.
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"We've got to vote early, in person if we can. We've got to request our mail-in ballots right now, tonight, and send them back immediately and follow-up to make sure they're received," Obama said. "We have to vote for Joe Biden in numbers that cannot be ignored. Because right now, folks who know they cannot win fair and square at the ballot box are doing everything they can to stop us from voting."