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Trump Expands Push for GOP Embrace of Early and Mail-In Voting


by Ben Whedon

 

The 2020 presidential election witnessed a nationwide surge in the prevalence of early voting and vote-by-mail practices, which featured heavily in former President Donald Trump’s claims that mass election fraud influenced the outcome. According to the Pew Research Center, 46% of voters in the 2020 race voted by absentee or mail-in ballot, and 27% reported having voted early.

Republicans were subsequently reluctant to embrace such practices, though a lackluster midterm performance and the about-face of the presumptive GOP nominee on the matter appears to have the Republicans rethinking their approach.

The Trump campaign and Republican National Committee on Tuesday announced the debut of its “Swamp the Vote” program, aimed at mobilizing swing-state voters and encouraging the use of mail-in, absentee, and early voting.

“Republicans must win and we will use every appropriate tool to beat the Democrats because they are destroying our country.  Whether you vote absentee, by mail, early in-person or on election day, we are going to protect the vote,” Trump said in a statement. “We make sure your ballot is secure and your voice is heard.  We must swamp the radical Democrats with massive turnout. The way to win is to swamp them, if we swamp them with votes they can’t cheat. You need to make a plan, register, and vote any way possible. We have got to get your vote.”

Trump further spoke Thursday at a “Chase the Vote” town hall in Maricopa County, Ariz., a municipality that featured heavily in Trump’s election fraud claims as well as former Arizona GOP gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake’s own election challenges.

During the event, hosted by Turning Point Action, Trump particularly focused on evangelical and gun-owning voters, contending that neither of the traditionally Republican-leaning voter blocs voted in sufficient numbers.

“Gun owners for whatever reason don’t vote,” he went on. “We have to get the Evangelicals, we have to get the gun owners. We have to get these people to vote.”

“We need a victory that’s too big to rig. You know what that means. We need everybody to get out and vote,” he insisted, while touting the Swamp the Vote program and directing supporters to the webpage for the initiative.

The GOP’s evolving stance on mail-in, early voting

“I call them the fake vote store. That’s the mail in ballots. We shouldn’t have mail in ballots, unless somebody’s very, very sick or it’s military far away,” Trump told the “Just the News, No Noise” television show in October of 2022.

“We should go to paper ballots, like they did in France. Thirty-six million people (voted) and they had no disputes. Everyone had paper ballots, and it was one-day voting. They didn’t store them over there in the corner, and you see the boxes moving all over the place,” he added.

By March of 2023, and in the wake of a lackluster midterm election result for Republicans, Trump begrudgingly accepted that Republicans had “no choice” but to embrace early voting, voting by mail, and ballot harvesting.

“In the states where ballot harvesting is still legal, we have no choice but to beat the Democrats at their own game,” he said the same month. “Either we start ballot harvesting or you can just wave goodbye to our country… We have to get smart.”

Ballot harvesting refers to the collecting of ballots by third parties. While Republicans have generally begun to embrace the practice in states where it is legal, GOP bastions such as Alabama have moved to ban it.

“Bank your vote” vs “Swamp the Vote”

The Republican National Committee in June of last year announced its “Bank Your Vote” initiative in a bid to compete with Democrats, who have traditionally outperformed the GOP with early and mail-in voters.

“We have some voters that like to vote on Election Day, and we have to explain to them we can’t allow Democrats to get a head start. We don’t want to wait till the fourth quarter to start scoring touchdowns when you have four quarters to put points on the board,” then-RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said.

The Bank Your Vote program did not feature in the midterm contests or in a presidential election. McDaniel’s resignation and the appointment of a Trump-aligned leadership team has since seen the party overhaul its efforts. Former North Carolina GOP Chairman Michael Whatley became RNC chairman while Lara Trump became the co-chairwoman in March.

The Swamp the Vote program is the successor to Bank Your Vote. When pressed on the differences between the predecessor program and campaign’s current effort, Trump Campaign National Press Secretary Karoline Leavitt said that Swamp the Vote is “a highly targeted and data backed dedicated resource effort to maximize turnout in certain voting groups who help us achieve our overall vote math needed to ensure victory.”

She further stated that the effort would target “[t]he voters we most need to turn out to achieve the necessary vote math to win each state.”

The program website currently features a video appeal from Trump and resources to check voter registration, request a ballot, pledge to vote early, and pledge to vote on Election Day. The effort drew praise from some aligned organizations.

“I have to commend the RNC and Lara Trump for really stepping up and acknowledging that this needs to be a top priority,” said American First Works Executive Director Ashley Hayek told the “Just the News, No Noise” television show in an interview to be aired later this week.

Some Republicans, however, see the need to go beyond the existing efforts and to substantially expand the party’s efforts to reach low propensity voters.

“There’s a lot more work to do. And some people look at November’s election as something that’s five months away, but actually, we’re only about three months away… In some of these states, people are gonna start voting right away,” former New York GOP gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin said on the same program.

Challenges

While the GOP and Trump campaign might be working to overcome Republican shortfalls on mail-in and early voting, Zeldin highlighted that the Democratic Party had hardly remained passive in the meantime and that changing election laws in Democrat-run swing states could present a both a greater impetus for the GOP to adapt and an impediment to the party’s efforts.

“[I]n some of these states, they have passed new election laws, like in Pennsylvania with universal mail in balloting, in Nevada, where they have more early voting, they’ve legalized the ballot harvesting,” he further said. “When I see a poll that comes back and says that maybe President Trump is up two points and Pennsylvania and Nevada, I don’t. Because we have to do a lot more to reach out to low propensity voters, no propensity voters, people who haven’t voted at all. Or if I don’t, then we’re gonna go into Election Day, we will have already lost Pennsylvania, and some of these other places.”

Pennsylvania Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro, for instance, embraced automatic voter registration last year, meaning that residents seeking ID cards and driver’s licenses would automatically be registered to vote in the state. That move drew concerns from Trump himself, who called the move a “a disaster for the Election of Republicans, including your favorite President, ME!”

“So we have been leaning heavily into this effort. There are a number of groups that are either now starting to knock on doors or planning to start knocking on doors in August, September,” Zeldin continued. “We need people who are out there [to] watch, sign up whether you’re volunteering for a shift, be a poll worker, or maybe you’re willing to take a leave from your job, or maybe you’re looking for employment altogether. There are targeted states across this country where we need more leader[ship].”

Other group efforts

Beyond the campaign and the RNC, moreover, aligned groups have identified the need to bolster the party’s outreach efforts with low propensity voters.

“What we did starting at the end of last year was go into the counties, county by county and evaluate what needs to be done and where are the deficiencies. Where do we need to recruit more poll watchers and poll workers? Who’s doing ballot curing?” Hayek said. “And so we’ve been identifying county by county what issues we need to address.”

“America First Policy Institute has an incredible legal team that’s been actively proactively filing lawsuits. And then we put together an election integrity checklist to make sure that, you know, we’re able to go in ahead of time and take a look at the machines, make sure that there’s certain things that are done ahead of time that will prepare us so that these elections run as smooth as possible,” she went on.

Hayek then highlighted the critical municipalities…



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