After midterms, GOP reconsidering antipathy to mail ballots

ATLANTA (AP) — In Georgia’s Senate runoff, Republicans once more met the realities of giving Democrats a head start they could not overcome.

According to tallies from the secretary of state, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock built a lead of more than 320,000 votes heading into Tuesday’s election. By almost a 2-1 ratio in mailed votes, he beat Republican Herschel Walker and had a lead of more than 250,000 in-person early votes. Even though Walker received more votes on Election Day than Walker, the challenger still lost nearly 97,000 votes.

It was only the latest example of how Republicans have handed Democrats an advantage in balloting due to former President Donald Trump’s lies about the risks of mail voting. Conservative conspiracy theorists insisted that GOP voters wait until Election Day to vote and told stories about how it would stop Democrats from rigging the voting machines to steal elections.

There was no widespread fraud in the 2020 election or this year’s midterms.

This strategy has one problem: Election Day is fraught with random errors.

In Arizona’s most populous county, for example, a printer error created long lines at several voting locations on Nov. 8. While Republicans were defeated in several statewide elections, including that of secretary and governor, Maricopa County officials stated that all eligible voters had the chance to vote. All valid ballots were also counted.

The automatic recount of the race for Arizona attorney-general is underway in Arizona, where the GOP candidate trails by just over 500 votes.

On Election Day, northern Nevada was hit by a snowstorm that made it difficult to travel. The Republican candidate for Senate lost by 8,000 votes. In Georgia’s runoff, rain drenched the state as the disproportionately Republican crowd finally made its way to the polls.

Overall, the Republican turnout in the midterms was quite strong, which suggests that the party had no problems getting its voters to vote. The GOP’s defeat in Georgia was the final straw for conservatives. It allowed Democrats to take over a Senate seat and the GOP could retake the chamber.

“We’ve got to put a priority on competing with Democrats from the start, beat them at their own game,” said Debbie Dooley, a Georgia tea party organizer who remains loyal to Trump but is critical of how he has talked about the U.S. election system.

In Washington, South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the second-ranking GOP leader, told reporters: “We’ve got to get better at turnout operations, especially in states that use mail-in balloting extensively.”

Ronna McDaniel is the chairwoman of Republican National Committee. She stated this week in an interview on Fox News that Republican voters should cast ballots as soon as possible.

“I have said this over and over again,” she said. “There were many in 2020 saying, ‘Don’t vote by mail, don’t vote early.’ And we have to stop that.”

McDaniel did not name the main person in 2020 who was attacking voting before Election Day — Trump.

When the U.S. went into lockdown during the March 2020 primaries, the nation’s voting system shifted heavily to mail. The then-president began to attack that manner of casting ballots, saying Democratic efforts to expand it could lead to “levels of voting that if, you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Trump claimed that mail ballots would cause massive fraud. He then blamed the imaginary mass fraud for his November loss, even though his own Department of Justice had not found any organized fraud. Trump’s lies helped spur the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, new GOP-backed laws tightening election regulations in Republican-led states and a wave of Republican candidates running for statewide posts in the 2022 elections who embraced his conspiracy theories.

Academic research has shown that mail voting increases turnout but doesn’t benefit either party. However, campaigns are often pushing it. Once they have secured some mail votes, they can concentrate their turnout operations on the laggards to get them voting by Election Day.

Mail voting provides protection against bad weather and equipment mishaps as well as traffic jams and other issues that may discourage voters.

States like Florida and Utah had strong mail voting systems and they have continued to expand their reach. Colorado was one of the states that mailed every voter a ballot. Older, conservative-leaning voters were most likely to return their ballots via mail.

The GOP is still skeptical about mail balloting. However, it was not a core part of the party’s identity until Trump made it so. But even conservatives who are against expanding mail voter must admit that they need to face the realities.

“There is a tension on the right between folks who say, ‘They’re the rules and you’ve got to play by them,’ and those who say, ‘No, you do not,’” said Jason Snead of the Honest Elections Project, a conservative group that advocates for tighter restrictions on mail voting. “I think there’s a lot of reevaluation and reassessment going on.”

“You can stand on principle and say, ‘I am not going to do this,’ but it’s a drag on performance if you do,” Snead said.

He pointed out that Republicans with strong early voting programs like Govs., were winning. Brian Kemp in Georgia and Ron DeSantis in Florida, easily won their elections while those who echoed Trump’s conspiracy theories mostly lost.

One of the most shocking performances by election conspiracy theorists came in Pennsylvania. The Republican candidate for governor was there to witness protesters attack the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, 2021. He lost the race by almost 15 percentage points. The GOP also lost control of the lower house and a seat in the Senate.

Democrats outvoted Republicans by mail more than three to one, winning 69% of nearly 1.25 million ballots. It was close to one-fourth of the nearly 5.4million ballots cast.

Republicans who control the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a massive overhaul of the state’s voting system in 2019, allowing anyone to cast a ballot by mail. Many Republicans were hesitant to vote for Trump’s 2020 plan, as he began to denigrate mail voting. GOP lawmakers and their aides have since challenged the law in court and inflated the number mail ballots rejected due to technicalities.

State officials from the top parties are currently reviewing their performance.

“Republican attitudes on mail-in ballots are going to have to change,” said Sam DeMarco, chair of the Allegheny County GOP. “President Trump is running across the country telling people not to use it, and it’s crushing us.”

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