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More Republicans make friends with mail-in ballots

Despite security concerns, GOP leaders work to boost voting by mail in 2024

A secured drop box for the return of vote-by-mail ballots in Newtown Square, Pa., May 2, 2022 Associated Press/Photo by Matt Rourke, File

More Republicans make friends with mail-in ballots

In 2020, Trump lost the popular vote in Pennsylvania by less than 2 percent in a record-high turnout year. That same year, a record 60 percent of Democratic Party voters nationwide cast ballots by mail, according to the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. Now, some Republicans are saying it’s time to encourage GOP voters to do the same. GOP-led efforts in Pennsylvania and Virginia hope to change the tide, but they might face opposition from the party leader, former President Donald Trump.

“The GOP needs to do two things this year: do a better job of growing the number of people or supporters and then do a better job of getting supporters to vote,” said Guy Ciarrocchi, former Republican candidate for governor and current senior fellow with the Commonwealth Foundation. He recalled being “caught up” in election security concerns over mail-in ballots in 2020. He now says that while Republicans have complained, Democrats have gained results.

Now, his entire family votes by mail. He volunteers at polls on Election Day and votes early by mail. His wife mails in a ballot because she does not want to wait in long lines or take time off work, and his son is frequently on the road for business and votes by mail in case he is out of town on Election Day. Ciarrocchi said the GOP should promote examples like his family in 2024.

In Pennsylvania, the Sentinel Action Fund launched a multimillion-dollar campaign this month to encourage mail-in voting. In 2022, Heritage Action, a conservative nonprofit that has compiled a database of alleged voter fraud, founded Sentinel as an independent super PAC to help elect conservative candidates. The effort is partially funded by the Republican Senate Leadership Committee (RSLC) PAC and the state’s Keystone Renewal PAC.

“Embracing early and absentee voting is key for a Republican victory in 2024,” Sentinel Action Fund President Jessica Anderson said in a statement. “As we saw in previous cycles, Republicans must be mobilized earlier in the cycle and equipped with a strategy to connect with and turn out voters before Election Day.”

A similar effort in Virginia launched last year for the state’s off-year elections. The Secure Your Vote initiative partnered with Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s PAC, Spirit of Virginia, and state Republican chapters of the RSLC and the Republican National Committee. According to data from the Virginia Public Access Project, the state received 275,000 mail-in ballots and 551,319 early in-person votes. The numbers fell short of 2022 when a contentious governor’s race was on the ballot. Virginians hope to continue the boost this year. In the Super Tuesday primaries, only about 46,500 Republicans cast early ballots by mail compared to more than 100,000 Democrats who voted by mail for President Joe Biden.

“It’s not that we’ve failed to win over the public,” Ciarrocchi said. “If we fail to elect Republicans, it is because we fail at getting our voters to the polls. And I, for one, am sick of losing close elections because the other side is better at the game.”

Ciarrocchi recalled Democratic rallies and meetings where volunteers walked around with QR codes for voters to scan to request mail-in ballots. Republican rallies also draw huge crowds, but Ciarrocchi said the party is missing an opportunity by not doing the same.

“We do great at organizing people, we just don’t close the sale,” he told WORLD. “We don’t need to match the Democrats ballot-for-ballot. If we can get the mail-in ratio down to 3 to 1 or less. It’s a win.”

Former Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel started a “Bank Your Vote” program last year to educate voters on how to navigate ballot request processes across the country. When Michael Whatley succeeded her earlier this month, he revamped the program into a broader “Grow the Vote” initiative that also includes training on how to encourage early voting and legal ballot harvesting. While every state has its own rules about voting by mail, most allow third parties to deliver or post completed and sealed mail-in ballots. Only Alabama requires the voter to return his or her ballot. In at least 24 states, campaign volunteers may collect mail-in ballots and deliver them to the local board of elections or a drop box.

“Republicans will fight in every state to turn out the vote and will utilize every legal process to get voters to the polls and chase ballots across the country,” Whatley wrote in an RNC memo. “We will take advantage of mail voting while fighting in court to make the practice more secure as we work to reelect President Donald J. Trump in November.”

Many conservatives are still concerned about the security of mail-in ballots. Republicans have launched several lawsuits alleging Democrats illegally harvested ballots in 2020 - meaning that volunteers took batches of mail-in ballots to the polls and added fake ones. A documentary by political commentator Dinesh D’Souza used cellphone location data and video clips of trucks driving by drop boxes to accuse Democrats of illegal ballot stuffing. Former President Donald Trump has argued this practice stole the election from him.

“If you have mail-in voting, you automatically have fraud,” Trump said last month in a Fox News town hall meeting.

Republicans in statewide offices share the concern. The Pennsylvania Senate State Government Committee voted last week to approve a measure that could eliminate ballot drop boxes and require voters to deliver their ballots directly to the county board of elections. In a memo on ballot stuffing, committee chairman Chris Dush, a Republican who also led a 2020 statewide election investigation, said satellite offices and drop boxes are not secure.

“There’s no such thing [as legal ballot harvesting],” Dush told WORLD. “Quite honestly, ballot harvesting is a very, very bad idea. Mail-in voting should be gotten rid of altogether.”

In Pennsylvania, a family member or someone who lives in the same home may deliver a mail-in ballot to a drop box or satellite office, but only if the voter grants permission to do so through an authorization form. Dush cited an instance in Lehigh Valley in 2021 where roughly 300 more ballots were delivered than there were people who showed up to the polls. In 2022, the Lehigh County district attorney said many voters likely cast family members’ ballots along with their own without receiving the authorization forms. It violates state law, but the district attorney declined to prosecute, calling most of the violations an innocent mistake. Dush said it’s just one example of what he called a flawed system.

“That kind of stuff happens all the time,” Dush said. “There’s no real way to ensure that there’s a chain of custody, even with the U.S. Postal Service. And if you don’t have a chain of custody at the very beginning, you don’t have a chain of custody at all.

Lara Trump, now co-chairwoman of the RNC, told NBC News there is still room to boost vote-by-mail efforts.

“I actually think if you talk to [Trump] right now, you will see that he is very much embracing early voting,” she said. “You saw it in the primaries, that they want to get out and they want to vote for him as soon as they possibly can. And if that means Day One of early voting for people, he’s very happy for them to go out and do it.”

Across the nation, several Republican plaintiffs have filed cases to amend mail-in ballot and drop box rules. Today, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing oral arguments over an Illinois statute that allows the state to count mail-in ballots two weeks after an election as long as they are postmarked by Election Day. U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill., is one of the plaintiffs, arguing that the rule violates the U.S. Constitution by expanding Election Day. Earlier this month, Sam DeMarco, a Republican member of the Allegheny County, Pa., Board of Elections, filed a lawsuit against County Executive Sara Innamorato after she announced five new drop box locations.

Ciarrocchi admitted that convincing Republicans to vote by mail after years of the party saying this contributed to voter fraud will be difficult. But he called mail-in voting a secure tool to be leveraged. Pennsylvania does not require photo ID for mail-in ballots, but the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals court ruled today that each must be dated correctly and signed. The state also provides email updates and a tracker for voters to see when their ballot has been received.

“Shame on us if we lose the presidency by a few electoral votes and lose Pennsylvania by a few points because we didn’t embrace mail-in ballots,” Ciarrocchi said. “If Pennsylvania votes for Trump, I don’t see how Joe Biden gets reelected. I’m doing everything I can to help Republicans win.”

Carolina Lumetta

Carolina is a WORLD reporter and a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and Wheaton College. She resides in Washington, D.C.


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