Pennsylvania Republicans reconsider their war on mail voting

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Across the country, the GOP’s disappointing interim results have sparked handwring over the party’s stance on early voting and mail-in ballots. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley — both potential 2024 GOP presidential candidates — recently said that Republicans cannot simply ignore the voting mechanisms that Democrats have used.

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

While nearly every Republican state legislature supported a 2019 law legalizing mail-in voting without excuse, GOP officials changed their tune during the 2020 presidential election, when then-President Donald Trump repeatedly and strongly voted by mail.

Their critique of the method continued from there. Pennsylvania Republicans attacked Democratic Governor Tom Wolf and the state’s top election official for how they implemented the 2019 mail-in voting law. They denounced the court’s rulings on the procedure, including those that allowed the use of drop boxes and allowed ballots to be received up to three days after the 2020 election, as long as they were postmarked on election day.

The 2022 Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano pledged during his campaign to ban voting by mail without excuse and led the movement to overturn the state’s 2020 presidential election. Republican state lawmakers filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the vote-by-mail bill they helped pass. Republican Jake Corman, outgoing Senate President Pro Tempore, said voting by mail should be stopped.

But the blue wave that hit Pennsylvania in 2022 — in which Republicans lost key races for governor, senate, house and the state legislature — is forcing the GOP to reassess.

“Republicans are focusing on Election Day turnout and Democrats started a month in advance,” said former Rep. Lou Barletta, who unsuccessfully ran for governor in this year’s GOP primary. “If we want to win, if Republicans want to win, they have to get better at “mail voting.”

Many Republicans in Pennsylvania remain hopeful that the state’s vote-by-mail bill will be repealed.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

But with democratically elected governor Josh Shapiro taking office next year, they recognize that those bills have little chance of being signed into law, at least for the foreseeable future. So they promise to work within the system.

“Democrats have transformed the election landscape in many states with their mail-in voting schedules — 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 need to convince voters — especially irregular voters who support the GOP — to take advantage of mail-in voting and make it an important part of their vote-out-of-vote operations.

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

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

Republicans also admit that their party currently lacks the infrastructure needed to compete with the Democrats on mail-in voting in swing states like Pennsylvania.

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

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

“I intend to work to encourage and get our voters to vote by mail,” he said. “I mean, about 650,000 votes were cast this year before the US Senate debate even took place. You have 50 days to vote by mail. If you vote in the polls, it’s 1pm. We outvoted the Democrats in the polls. But the mail is something we need to work on.”

Trump hangs over the efforts of Republicans in Pennsylvania and across the country to embrace voting by mail. The former president has continued to claim that the method is inherently unreliable and is partly 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 was “not a fan of mail ballots and was critical of them and that didn’t help.”

But to a large extent, Republicans in the state seem poised to move forward with mail-in voting regardless of what Trump says. Many have come to the conclusion that they cannot win otherwise. Charlie Gerow, the Pennsylvania-based vice chairman of the Conservative Political Action Coalition, likened the GOP approach to voting by mail to a basketball player who doesn’t shoot from behind the three-point line because he doesn’t like the rule.

“You could play a game like that. And more often than not, you would lose,” he said. “Or you can say, ‘Hey, I don’t like the three-point line. But God damn it, I’m going to be the best three-point shooter you can find.’ And that’s what I think Republicans should be right now.”

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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