A growing chorus of Republicans are pleading with the GOP to rebuild its once-robust early and mail voting programs, blaming the party's reluctance to embrace such efforts for a lackluster showing in the 2022 midterm elections.
Democrats drastically outpaced Republicans in pre-Election Day voting in key battleground states this year, allowing the party and its candidates to run up a massive vote advantage heading into Nov. 8. Republicans, meanwhile, banked on heavy Election Day turnout to overpower Democrats.
But after the so-called red wave that Republicans had predicted ahead of the midterms failed to materialize, a growing number of influential GOP leaders and operatives say the party needs to more aggressively compete with Democrats when it comes to early and mail voting, fearing that a failure to do so could cost the GOP in future elections.
"We have to reevaluate both the strategy and the tactics. We had so many close races, but we didn't do a good job at early voting, we didn't do a lot of mail-in voting," said Saul Anuzis, a Republican strategist and former Michigan GOP chair. "We don't like that stuff so we don't really participate in it."
"I think there's a lot of tactical things that we have to take a look at," he added.
For many of the GOP's most loyal voters, the aversion of pre-Election Day ballot-casting is a direct result of former President Donald Trump, who has spent years fueling distrust in the system with baseless claims that early and mail voting helped rig the 2020 election against him.
Even in announcing his bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination last week, Trump called for a ban on practices like early voting and demanded that the U.S. adopt "same-day voting" and mandatory paper ballots.
But some Republicans say that one of the biggest takeaways from the 2022 midterm elections is that the GOP should take advantage of expanded access to voting rather than fight it.
"You can b-h about the game as much as you want, but you gotta find a way to play the game, because the game's not going to change right now," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist and former congressional candidate.
Despite efforts in some Republican-controlled states to clamp down on early and mail voting, Democrats racked up a voter turnout edge in key states before Election Day ever came around.
In three states with competitive statewide races - Arizona, Nevada and Pennsylvania - Democrats accounted for a higher share of the pre-Election Day vote than they did in both 2018 and 2020. That early turnout ultimately helped Democratic candidates clinch key victories in three of the marquee Senate races.
A Harvard CAPS/Harris poll released exclusively to The Hill on Monday also highlighted Democrats' early and absentee voting advantage. Fifty-two percent of Democrats said they voted before Election Day compared to 45 percent of Republicans.
With the midterms now in the rearview mirror, even some Republicans who once criticized pre-Election Day voting have begun to take another look at the practice. Charlie Kirk, the conservative activist and commentator, tweeted last week that "one of the first lessons we have to take from the midterms is the power of early voting."
"Telling everyone to vote in-person on [Election Day] opens you to traffic jams and machine malfunctions," he tweeted. "If and when that happens, there's no rewinding time to change your strategy. You're at the mercy of the courts and voters' own schedules."
Nikki Haley, the former United Nations ambassador and South Carolina governor, said that Republicans were being outdone by Democrats when it comes to early and absentee voting and called on the GOP to "play the same game."
"We were completely outplayed electorally. The Democrats did a full court press to vote early. We sat on our hands," Haley said during a speech at the Republican Jewish Coalition's national leadership meeting in Las Vegas over the weekend. "Early and absentee voting are here to stay. We need to play the same game and turn out the maximum number of voters. The left does it, and we don't."
And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who boasted during his reelection campaign about how he pushed the state legislature to crack down on ballot harvesting by non-family members, urged Republicans to take advantage of the practice in the states that allow it.
"You can't just let [Democrats] do it," DeSantis said during an appearance at the RJC's meeting in Las Vegas. "Whatever the rules are, take advantage of it."
Indeed, Florida is one state where Republicans aren't falling behind when it comes to early voting. Heading into Election Day, Republicans had already outpaced Democrats in early in-person voting, including in Democratic strongholds like Miami-Dade and Osceola Counties. Democrats, meanwhile, held only a narrow lead when it came to mail-in voting.
The election results amounted to a resounding victory for Republicans in the Sunshine State. DeSantis defeated his Democratic rival, Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), by a 19-point margin, while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) won reelection by more than 16 points.
There's no indication that pre-Election Day voting is going away anytime soon. Since 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic first pummeled the United States, a number of states have moved to expand early voting and no-excuse mail voting.
Connecticut voters approved a ballot measure earlier this month to allow early voting in the state, while Michigan voters OK'ed a state constitutional amendment establishing early voting and expanding access to absentee voting. Come 2024, voters in only three states - Mississippi, Alabama and New Hampshire - will not be able to take advantage of either option.
"Early voting, vote-by-mail - that's the direction that we're trending in as a country," one Republican consultant who's worked on get-out-the-vote programs said. "By saying, you know, 'No, we're just not going to do it because Donald Trump doesn't like it' - we're kneecapping ourselves."
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