ATLANTA (AP) — After years of criticizing mail voting and so-called ballot harvesting as ripe for fraud, Republicans at the top of the party want to change course.
They are poised to launch aggressive get-out-the-vote campaigns for 2024 that employ just those strategies, attempting to match the emphasis on early voting Democrats have used for years to lock in many of their supporters well ahead of Election Day. The goal is to persuade voters who support GOP candidates that early voting techniques are secure and to make sure they are able to return their ballots in time to be counted, thus putting less pressure on Election Day turnout efforts.
It marks a notable shift from the party's rhetoric since 2020, when then-President Donald Trump was routinely sowing doubt about mail voting and encouraging his voters to wait and vote in-person on Election Day. As recently as last year, Republican activists peddling the stolen election narrative were telling GOP voters who received mail ballots to hold onto them and turn them in at their polling place on Election Day rather than use mail or drop boxes.
Now Trump is asking donors to chip in for his “ballot harvesting fund” – saying in a fundraising email, “Either we ballot harvest where we can, or you can say goodbye to America!”
Republicans say the shift is needed to ensure GOP victories up and down the 2024 ballot, arguing they cannot afford to give Democrats any advantage. At the same time, they acknowledge skepticism from many of their own voters conditioned by false claims of widespread voter fraud from Trump and others.
Across the country, Republican-controlled legislatures have acted against early voting — shortening windows for returning mail ballots, banning or limiting the use of drop boxes and criminalizing third-party ballot collection.
In announcing a “Bank Your Vote” initiative for 2024, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said the party “has never said ‘don’t vote early,'” but acknowledged the GOP will have to work to shift voters' perceptions.
“That certainly is a challenge if you have people in your ecosystem saying, ‘Don’t vote early or don’t vote by mail,’ and those cross messages do have an impact,” McDaniel told reporters Wednesday. “I don’t think you’re seeing that heading into 2024. I think you’re seeing all of us singing from the same songbook.”
The nationwide GOP plan emphasizes “in-person early voting, absentee voting, and ballot harvesting where legal,” while also pledging “to fight against bad ballot harvesting laws.” Republicans use the term to describe when someone else returns a mailed ballot on behalf of another voter, especially third parties that gather multiple ballots.
McDaniel emphasized she remains opposed to ballot collection, and she said the party would deploy an army of poll watchers and election monitors to reassure Republican voters that their ballots will be protected.
“Do I think it’s the most secure way of voting? No,” McDaniel said. “But if it’s the law, we’re going to have to do it just like the Democrats are.”
The challenge will be providing a consistent message that reassures GOP voters.
The same day McDaniel announced her initiative, Republicans in Congress were holding a hearing considering legislation that, among other things, would ban ballot collection in the District of Columbia. GOP state lawmakers around the country have chipped away at advanced voting opportunities since 2020. Some state and local election Republicans have gone further, advocating for just a single day of voting.
After the 2020 presidential election, the movie “2000 Mules” was a popular video that made various debunked claims about mail ballots, drop boxes and ballot collection. Even the co-chair of the new GOP strategy, U. S. Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., has been a critic. In November, he issued a call on social media to “End ballot harvesting.”