Georgia Republicans want to encourage early voting and absentee ballots after years of sending conflicting messages to their constituents – WABE

After years of criticizing postal voting and so-called ballot collection as fraudulent, the Republicans at the top of the party want to change course.

They are poised to embark on aggressive 2024 election campaigns that leverage these very strategies and seek to emphasize the early voting that Democrats have used for years to tie many of their supporters well before Election Day. The goal is to convince voters who support GOP candidates that early voting procedures are safe and ensure they can return their ballots in time for the count, thereby putting less pressure on turnout efforts on Election Day.

It marks a notable change from the party’s rhetoric since 2020, when then-President Donald Trump routinely cast doubt on mail-in voting and encouraged his constituents to wait and vote on Election Day. As recently as last year, Republican activists spreading the stolen election tale were urging Republican voters who received mail-in ballots to keep them and turn them in at their polling station on Election Day, rather than using letters or mailboxes.

Now Trump is asking donors for donations to his “Ballot Harvest Fund” – writing in a donation email: “Either we harvest where we can, or you say goodbye to America!”

Republicans say the postponement is necessary to ensure Republicans win both polls and elections in the 2024 election, arguing they cannot afford to give Democrats an advantage. At the same time, they acknowledge the skepticism of many of their own constituents, stemming from false claims by Trump and others about widespread voter fraud.

Across the country, Republican-controlled legislatures have cracked down on early voting — shortening deadlines for returning absentee ballots, banning or restricting the use of mailboxes, and criminalizing third-party voting.

Announcing a 2024 “Bank Your Vote” initiative, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said the party “never said not to vote too early,” but acknowledged the GOP needs to work to make the changing voter perceptions.

“It’s certainly a challenge when in your ecosystem people are saying, ‘Don’t vote too early or don’t vote by mail,’ and those counter-messages actually have an impact,” McDaniel told reporters Wednesday. “I don’t think you’ll see that until 2024. I think you see we’re all singing from the same songbook.”

The statewide GOP plan emphasizes “early voting in person, absentee ballots and ballot harvesting where it’s legal,” while promising to “fight bad ballot harvesting laws.” Republicans use the term to describe when someone else returns a mailed ballot on behalf of another voter, particularly third parties who collect multiple ballots.

McDaniel stressed she remains opposed to ballot collection and said the party will deploy an army of poll watchers and poll watchers to reassure Republican voters that their ballots are protected.

“Do I think it’s the safest way to vote? No,” McDaniel said. “But if it’s the law, we have to do it the same way the Democrats do.”

The challenge will be delivering a consistent message that reassures GOP voters.

On the same day that McDaniel announced their initiative, Republicans in Congress held a hearing on legislation that would, among other things, ban voting in the District of Columbia. GOP lawmakers across the country have waived expanded choices since 2020. Some Republicans in state and local elections have gone even further, advocating only a single election day.

After the 2020 presidential election, a popular video was the film 2000 Mules, which made various debunked claims about absentee ballots, mailboxes, and ballot collection. Even the co-chair of the new GOP strategy, US Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Florida, was a critic. In November, he took to social media to call for “an end to the ballot harvest.”

Still, McDaniel pointed out that Republican presidential candidates, including Trump, have spoken about the importance of the primary and ballot collection.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a high-profile GOP candidate, recently told a voter he plans to start his own “ballot harvesting” campaign, according to video posted online by a Washington Post reporter. DeSantis said he will not “fight with one hand tied behind his back.”

Trump and DeSantis campaigners did not respond to messages asking for details on voting plans. Florida is among a majority of Republican-led states that have attempted to ban or limit the practice in recent years, even though Republicans there rely on older, more conservative voters who prefer voting methods other than voting on Election Day.

Since the 2020 election, lawmakers in 31 states have introduced 124 bills that would limit the return of third-party ballots. That’s according to data from the Voting Rights Lab, which tracks election-related laws across the states. Of these, 14 bills were passed in 11 states. This includes a letter signed by DeSantis himself, making it a criminal offense for a person to collect more than two mail-in ballots other than their own or an immediate family member.

While some states are silent on the issue, 31 states allow a person other than the voter to return a ballot on behalf of another voter. Nine limits the number of ballots a person can return, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In many states, ballot processing is restricted to family members, household members, or guardians.

In California, efforts to secure early voting could be crucial next year in a number of U.S. House districts, most of which are in Southern California’s suburbs, that are expected to play crucial roles play in determining control of the board. California is a Democratic stronghold, but Republicans retain their strength in rural, small-town areas and the Central Valley farm belt, while the state’s suburban congressional districts have seen many close races in recent election cycles.

Up to nine seats in Congress are considered competitive, and several races are held in districts won by President Joe Biden but where the seat is held by a Republican. Each of California’s 22 million registered voters receives a ballot in the mail a month before Election Day.

“With any close election, the ability to capture absentee votes becomes extremely important, especially in a state like ours where every single voter has a ballot paper at home,” said Conservative activist Jon Fleishman.

Democrats have been critical of Republicans’ new efforts after years of Republicans opposing voting by mail.

“Donald Trump and extremist Republicans have spent years spreading lies about elections to justify their losses. This includes demonizing absentee ballots and ballot collection,” said Jena Griswold, Colorado’s secretary of state and chair of the Democratic Association of Secretary of State. “These hypocritical extremists are only interested in spreading chaos and seizing power at any cost.”

Republican leaders remain determined to advance the cause within their own ranks, said Rep. Richard Hudson, RN.C.

“We need to bring about a culture change among Republican voters,” said Hudson, chairman of the Republican National Campaign Committee in the House of Representatives. “And for that, we all have to agree.”