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GOP seeks to correct ‘the narrative’ on mail-in ballot use after years of conflicting messages

Marta Moehring voted in Nebraska’s Republican primary on Tuesday the way she prefers: in person at her polling place in West Omaha.

She didn’t even consider abusing the state’s no-excuse voting process. In fact, she would like to abolish voting by mail altogether. She believes fraudulent ballots cost the former president Donald Trump a second term in 2020.

“In general, I don’t trust it,” said Moehring, 62. “I don’t think they were counted correctly.”

But now Republican officials — and sometimes even Trump — are encouraging voters like Moehring to cast their ballots by mail. The Republican Party has launched an effort to, in the words of one official, “correct the narrative” about mail-in voting and get those turned off by Trump to sign up again for this year’s elections to consider.

The push is a striking change for a party that has amplified dark rumors about ballot measures to explain Trump’s 2020 loss, but is also seen as a necessary course correction for an election this year that will likely be decided by razor-thin margins. a handful of swing states.

“We need to start using these mail-in ballots right away for the people who can’t get there on Election Day,” said Rep. Scott Perry, one of Trump’s strongest allies in Congress in his push to overturn the 2020 election. conservative rally in his home state of Pennsylvania.

Republicans were once at least as likely as Democrats to vote by mail, but Trump changed the dynamic in 2020. He preemptively began arguing that mail-in voting was bad months before voting began in the presidential race.

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That alarmed Republican strategists who saw mail-in voting as an advantage in campaigns because it allows them to “bank” unreliable votes before Election Day and reduces the risk of turnout plummeting due to bad weather or other unpredictable factors. the elections. Trump’s own campaign tried to sell Republicans on casting mail-in ballots, but his voters listened to the then-president. In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Democrats were much more likely than Republicans to vote by mail.

The trend continued into 2022 and its costs were clearly illustrated in Arizona.

Three leading Republican candidates there, repeating Trump’s lies about the unreliability of mail-in ballots, encouraged their supporters to vote in person on Election Day. An election machine breakdown that day at a third of polling places in the state’s most populous county led to huge lines and some potential voters left frustrated.

The top three Republicans all lost, including falling 17,000 votes short in the governor’s race and 500 votes short in the attorney general race.

This time, Republicans say they won’t risk abandoning ballots. Trump’s hand-picked chairman of the Republican National Committee, his daughter-in-law Lara Trump, has vowed to embrace a variety of legal election methods to increase the turnout that Trump wrongly blamed for his 2020 loss, including so-called “vote harvesting” – by people submit ballots on behalf of other voters.

“In this election cycle, Republicans will beat Democrats at their own game, using every legal tactic at our disposal, based on each state’s rules,” Lara Trump said in an interview with The Associated Press.

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Turning Point Action, a prominent pro-Trump group, is launching a $100 million campaign to reach infrequent voters in the swing states of Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin. That includes offering vote-by-mail as a way to make casting a ballot easier, spokesman Andrew Kolvet said.

“We would like to see the elections proceed as they did before,” Kolvet said. “We can spend our time complaining about it, or we can take action and play by the rules that Democrats, or largely Democrats, used.”

Even Trump himself has begun to advocate voting by mail, though he regularly criticizes it at campaign events and blames it for his 2020 loss. The RNC also continues to file lawsuits challenging various aspects of mail-in voting across the country country.

Nevertheless, Trump recorded a short video telling his supporters that “absentee voting, early voting and Election Day voting are all good options.”

A recent effort to publicize voting by mail came during last month’s Pennsylvania primary, when the Republican State Legislative Committee teamed up with a committee supporting the party’s Senate candidate and the GOP Republican Party. The goal, said RSLC political director Max Docksey, was “to correct the narrative among Republican voters about voting by mail.”

The effort was inspired by what the RSLC saw as a successful effort to increase mail-in voting among Republicans in the battle for control of the Virginia Legislature in 2023, a battle ultimately won by Democrats.

The group sent mail-in ballots to 1.5 million Republican voters, sent 475,000 text messages encouraging mail-in voting and touted the benefits of mail-in voting at party rallies.

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But at the same time, Republicans in Pennsylvania have filed a lawsuit to force the state’s ballots to be counted at polling places instead of at county elections offices, which have the equipment and space to do the work. That’s one of many lawsuits filed by Republicans against mail-in voting. since 2020 throughout the country.

The conflicting messages could make it challenging to quickly reverse the decline in voting by mail among Republicans.

In Pennsylvania, Republican operatives were pleased with their efforts, which they said led to them adding nearly twice as many voters to the state’s voting rolls as Democrats did during the primaries. But the overall share of mail-in ballots sent by Republicans in Pennsylvania remained about the same as in 2020, at just a quarter of the total number of ballots, according to data from the secretary of state’s office.

Bill Bretz, chairman of the Republican Party of Westmoreland County in the western part of the state, said he noticed voters in his conservative area slowly but surely warming up to voting by mail.

“People understand the consequences of this election,” he said. “There is a lot of acceptance to vote any way, and the boogeyman of mail-in voting is starting to fade.”

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Riccardi reported from Denver and Beck from Omaha, Nebraska. Associated Press writers Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Martha Mendoza in Santa Cruz, California, and Leah Willingham in Charleston, West Virginia, contributed to this report.

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