After years of early derision and mail-in voting, claiming it leads to fraud and helps Democrats steal the election, top Republicans are shifting sides, splitting the party as the 2024 election approaches.
He warns converts at the helm of the party that they must adapt or risk further electoral setbacks, especially in key early and mail-in ballot states. However, entrenched enemies within the ranks of the anti-election Republicans could muddy the party’s message about voting.
The Republican National Committee recently announced that it has created a program to encourage early voting, whether by mail or in person. The effort, called Bank Your Vote, calls on Republicans to take advantage of “ballot harvesting” where legal to do so, a practice that allows a third party to collect voters’ completed ballots.
“To win the close election, we need to close the gap in voting before Election Day,” said Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Council, in a video released to the program.
A concession to the math and realities of the moment, the reversal is that the popularity of mail-in voting shows few signs of abating, three years after the pandemic began and its use accelerated. It is also a begrudging admission that Republicans have failed to gain traction with their unsubstantiated claims that mail-in voting harms election integrity.
Even former President Donald J. Trump, whose lies and conspiracy theories about his loss in the 2020 election cemented the party’s mistrust of mail-in voting, has been saying for months that Republicans “have no choice” but to adopt the method, at least until the party moves on. The power to change voting laws.
As Mr. Trump seeks the Oval Office for the third time, his quiet transformation illustrates the divide between the party’s candidates, who want to avoid adding more defeats to their losing streak in 2020 and 2022, and his solid base of supporters.
However, Mr. Trump and some other standard-bearers in the party have tried to take sides of the issue, sometimes in awkward ways, further confusing their constituents.
As he headlined the Georgia GOP convention this month in a state doomed to re-election in 2020, the center of a criminal investigation into his attempts to undermine his loss, Mr. Trump once again stirred up mistrust in mail-in voting.
“By the way, mail ballots will always be dishonest,” he said.
Mr. Trump, who regularly votes by mail, has falsely claimed that chain-of-custody cases involving mail-in ballots compromise the integrity of the election.
“It would be rotten,” he said, “be it—I would never say that about our postmen because we love our postman—but whether it be the postmen or all the people who touch those ballots.” “They find them in the rivers. They find them in the streams. They find them everywhere. Many people got many votes.”
Carrie Lake, a Trump ally whose courts have rejected repeated legal challenges to her loss in the 2022 Arizona gubernatorial race, on a mail-in ballot.
Ms. Lake said in late May.
Ms. Lake was speaking at a news conference after her latest election lawsuit, which alleged that Maricopa, Arizona’s most populous county, neglected to review voter signatures on mail-in ballots, was dismissed. Now, she said, she will focus on bank mail votes as she raises the possibility of her running for Senate in 2024.
Just days after entering the 2024 presidential race, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Trump’s main Republican challenger, said Republicans had hurt themselves in 2020 with their attack on absentee voting.
“I think telling people not to mail in a ballot is a huge mistake, and it ends up shrinking the pool of potential voters,” DeSantis said during a May 26 radio appearance with conservative commentator Ben Shapiro.
But the distrust of early voting that Mr. Trump has cultivated continues to permeate the GOP, leaving many holdouts among the election deniers, who have called the acceptance of mail-in ballots misguided.
“They are 100 percent wrong,” Mike Lindell, the founder of MyPillow and a Trump ally who has been a leading voice pushing conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election, said in a text message. “Vote the same day!”
Mr. Lindell also renewed calls for the election to be held entirely using paper ballots counted by hand, not electronic tables.
Since the 2020 election, Republican attacks on mail-in voting have been unabated. Some have declared absentee voting “un-American,” including Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general and Trump ally, who called mail-in balloting a “threat to democracy” in a 2020 online commentary.
But in a review prepared by the Republican National Committee after the party’s disappointing performance in last year’s midterm elections, GOP leaders conceded that opposing vote-by-mail was a flawed strategy.
Karl Rove, a GOP strategist who has been a target of Trump’s criticism, said in an interview that the former president’s repeated calls for Republicans to eliminate email and early voting once they gain power were bogus.
He said, “It’s a fantasy.” “It won’t happen.”
Mr. Rove said failures in early voting in Arizona and Georgia in 2020 hurt the party’s chances — Mr. Trump narrowly lost both states — and called efforts to simultaneously embrace and attack mail-in voting “unhelpful” to Republicans.
However, Republican lawmakers and governors have continued to push for legislation that would make it more difficult to vote by mail, with mixed results.
In Nebraska, a campaign by two Republican senators to require most people to vote in person has foundered this year in the unicameral legislature. In Arkansas, Republicans used their monopoly on power this year to ban ballot boxes, in a state that doesn’t use them.
Tyler Deese, a Republican senator who was the bill’s lead sponsor, noted that ballot boxes in other states were prone to vandalism and the facilitation of illegal polls, claims that independent election observers and studies have refuted.
“They act as a beacon of mistrust,” Mr. Dease said of drop funds during a speech in February. “They do not promote a fair and equal process.”
But pragmatists in the party point to the success Democrats have shown by taking advantage of laws that allow voting for longer, not just on Election Day.
said Jeff Rowe, a longtime GOP strategist who advises the PAC supergroup that supports Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in his presidential candidacy, and has worked on Glenn Youngkin’s successful campaign for Virginia governor, Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential bid and a long list of other campaigns.
Andy Riley, the Republican National Committee member from Delaware County, Pennsylvania, which is next door to Philadelphia, said the power of the early voting process for the Democrats is hard to match.
“You better have a good operation on Election Day,” he said. “There’s no such thing as Election Day operations right now. It’s election season that they have to embrace.”
Mr. Reilly said Republicans did not realize that unforeseen events could arise on Election Day that prevented voters from going to the polls.
“Life gets in the way,” he said, adding that it was a mistake to limit the vote to a single day. “It is, in essence, the suppression of the Republican vote.”