Pennsylvania Republicans reconsider their war on mail voting

Across the country, the GOP’s disappointing midterm results have spurred hand-wringing about the party’s attitude toward early voting and mail-in ballots. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley – both potential 2024 GOP presidential candidates – have recently said that Republicans cannot ignore the voting mechanisms that Democrats have taken advantage of.

But the about-face is particularly striking in Pennsylvania, where Republicans have adopted a particularly uncompromising approach to voting by mail.

Although nearly every Republican state legislator supported a law in 2019 legalizing no-excuse mail-in voting, GOP officials changed their tune in the 2020 presidential election, when then-President Donald Trump repeatedly cut mail-in voting. turn and forcefully.

Their criticism of the method continued from there. Pennsylvania Republicans attacked Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the state’s chief election officer for the way they implemented the 2019 vote-by-mail law. They lambasted court rulings on the procedure, including those that enabled the use of drop boxes and allow postal ballots to be received up to three days after the 2020 election as long as they are posted by Election Day.

Doug Mastriano, the 2022 Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial nominee, promised during his campaign to eliminate voting by mail no excuses and led the movement to overturn the 2020 presidential election in the state. Republican state lawmakers filed a lawsuit that sought to overturn the very vote-by-mail law they helped pass. Retiring Senate President Pro Tempore Republican Jake Corman said voting by mail should be ended.

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But the blue wave that hit Pennsylvania in 2022 – where Republicans lost key races for governor, Senate, House and state legislature – is forcing the GOP to reassess.

“Republicans are focused on Election Day turnout and Democrats started a month early,” said former Rep. Lou Barletta, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in this year’s GOP primary. “If we want to win, if Republicans want to win, they improved” postal voting.

Many Republicans in Pennsylvania remain hopeful that the state’s vote-by-mail law will be repealed. And there is little sign that they will stop proposing bills to end postal voting.

But with Democrat Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro set to take office next year, they acknowledge those bills have little chance of being signed into law, at least in the near future. So they promise to work within the system.

“Democrats transformed the electoral landscape with their vote-by-mail plans in many states – and Republicans must respond by decisively winning this battle,” said Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.).

Since Election Day, Pennsylvania Republicans have said in interviews and post-mortems that the party apparatus and outside conservative groups must persuade voters — especially undecided voters who support the GOP — to take advantage of mail-in voting. and make it a key part of their get out the vote operations.

“Republican and conservative activists need to embrace voting by mail, as it is not going away anytime soon,” GOP state Rep. Russ Diamond wrote in a post-mortem on his website. “Our goal is not to convince regular voters to vote by mail, but to figure out how to cultivate mail-in votes from those registered Republicans who vote infrequently or not at all.”

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But the GOP faces a wellspring of distrust within its base. In this year’s gubernatorial race, Shapiro received more than 1 million mail-in ballots, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State. Mastriano won only 187,000. Even in the closer Senate race, Democrat John Fetterman 960,000 postal votes were collected, and Mehmet Oz took only 234,000.

Republicans also admit that their party does not currently have the infrastructure needed to compete with Democrats on mail-in voting in swing states like Pennsylvania.

“Democrats have these interest groups, like EMILY’s List, Planned Parenthood, that push mail-in ballots every day to people. And we don’t have similar Republican interest groups that are out there pushing mail-in ballots,” Reilly said. “We need to get people who want Republican governance to buy into the idea and promote the idea.”

Lawrence Tabas, chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, hasn’t backed down from his belief that Democrats botched the implementation of the state’s new vote-by-mail law in 2020. Still, he said, the GOP needs to adjust to the reality of voting by the post is a legal means of voting in the state.

“I plan to work on encouraging and getting our voters to vote by mail,” he said. “I mean, 650,000 votes were cast this year before the US Senate debate even took place. You have 50 days to vote by post. If you vote in the election, it is 13 hours. We voted for the Democrats in the polls. But the post is something we need to work on.”

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Hanging over the efforts of Republicans in Pennsylvania and across the country to embrace voting by mail is Trump. The former president has continued to argue that the method is inherently unreliable and, in part, responsible for his loss in the 2020 election.

Unlike some national Republicans, Tabas didn’t shy away from saying Trump was a problem when it came to the party’s problems with mail-in voting. He said the former president “wasn’t a fan of mail-in ballots and was critical of it and that didn’t help.”

But, for the most part, Republicans in the state are ready to move forward with mail-in voting regardless of what Trump says. Many have concluded that they cannot win otherwise. Charlie Gerow, vice chairman of the Conservative Political Action Coalition in Pennsylvania, compared the GOP’s mail-in voting approach to a basketball player who refrains from shooting from behind the three-point line because he doesn’t n like the rule.

“You could play a game like that. And more times than not, you would lose,” he said. “Or you can say, ‘Hey, I don’t like the three-point line. But honestly, I’ll be the best three-point shooter you can find.’ And that’s what I think the Republicans have to be now.”

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