Early voting will open in some Florida counties on Oct. 19, 2020, but mail-in ballots are already being returned.
Leading up to and following the 2020 election, Republicans around the nation denounced the dramatic increase in vote-by-mail balloting that took place across the country.
Now, they’re embracing efforts to vote before Election Day in a nationwide campaign dubbed “Bank Your Vote” that they hope will help them retain the U.S. House and win back the U.S. Senate and the White House in 2024.
“We have voters who like to vote on Election Day, and we’ve got to explain to them that we can’t allow Democrats to get a head start,” said Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, speaking on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. “We don’t want to wait until the fourth quarter to start scoring touchdowns when you have four quarters to put points on the board, and that’s what this whole initiative is about, and we’re going to lead the charge on getting the Republican ecosystem to chase ballots and build an advantage before Election Day.”
While voting by mail (or absentee voting, as it also is called in some states) has been utilized by states like Florida for years, that voting method exploded in popularity in 2020 as the coronavirus emerged that spring, leading states to adopt and encourage vote-by-mail efforts. Nearly half of all voters (46%) said they voted by mail in the 2020 election, and among that group, about 40% said that it was their first time casting a ballot that way, according to the Pew Research Center.
Data (also from Pew) from the 2020 presidential election showed that Joe Biden did much better than Trump when it came to winning the vote before Election Day, while Trump won more of the vote on Election Day, hence the GOP’s “Bank Your Vote” campaign.
McDaniel said that the RNC will conduct focus groups and message testing on how to best communicate with Republican voters on pre-Election Day voting.
While Republicans around the nation were denouncing vote-by-mail in 2020 saying that it led to voter fraud, there were little concerns about that situation in Florida, where state Republicans embraced the process after the 2000 recount presidential election. That system has enabled them to consistently win close elections in Florida, even during cycles when they had fewer registered voters in the state than Democrats.
“Our state is probably one of the first states that really went through the process to make sure that early voting, absentee and mail-in voting was functional, could actually work, and actually be safe for its residents,” said Naples-area Republican Congressman Byron Donalds, who will co-chair the Bank Your Vote effort for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC). “We want to take some of those successes in Florida and really make sure that we get them to other states.”
Republican Party of Florida Chair Christian Ziegler told the Phoenix that while putting an intense effort into banking early votes is something that has worked well for his party for nearly two decades, he does intend to take advantage of the national program to inform Republicans in Florida why it’s good to vote early or by mail ahead of Election Day.
“We need to encourage people to vote early and vote by mail as much as they can because strategically it’s good because it allows you to target less people as you get towards Election Day,” he said. “For other states it’s really going to be a big push that’s going to help them.”
Despite their success at the ballot box, Florida Republicans haven’t been immune to restricting vote-by-mail access in recent years. The Legislature passed and Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an election reform bill (SB 90) in 2021 that limited the use of drop boxes where voters can deposit vote-by-mail ballots and added more identification requirements for anyone requesting a vote-by-mail ballot. It also requires voters to now have to request a vote-by-mail ballot for each two-year election cycle, rather than every four years as was previously the case. A 2022 law (SB 524) raised the penalties for so-called ballot harvesting from a misdemeanor to a third-degree felony.
However, during a campaign stop in Iowa last week, DeSantis told one voter that “We’re going to do ballot harvesting,” adding “I’m not gonna play with one hand tied behind my back.”
During the question-and-answer session with reporters, McDaniel denied that Republicans as a political party had previously actively discouraged voting before Election Day.
“The RNC never said ‘don’t vote early,'” she said, while adding “that certainly it is a challenge if you have people in your ecosystem saying, ‘don’t vote early,’ or ‘don’t vote by mail,’ and so those cross-messages do have an impact. I don’t think you’re seeing that heading into 2024. I think that you’re seeing all of us singing from the same songbook.”
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