Former President Donald Trump and his Republican allies, who have long baselessly linked mail-in voting and so-called ballot harvesting to voter fraud, are now building programs that encourage these same practices.
Republicans with close ties to Trump are now attempting to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to develop robust initiatives that promote voting practices, similar to the ones employed by Democrats, that they once vilified after experiencing poor election outcomes in 2020 and 2022, according to The Washington Post.
"The big takeaway is that they're hypocrites who will do anything to try to hold on to power," Colorado's Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold told Salon. "At this point, for years, the extreme right has launched a coordinated assault on democracy, on voting rights – all to create doubt in voters' minds so that they can tilt elections in their favor, to set up the atmosphere to try to steal elections, and that has been their playbook."
Now, the same Republicans are trying to undo the damage they have done by promoting falsehoods about early voting methods. Instead, they are trying convince GOP supporters that such efforts are reliable to increase voter turnout.
Several individuals engaged in these efforts previously held positions in Trump's administration or worked with Trump-affiliated organizations during the last election. Some of them even propagated the belief that the 2020 election was fraudulent. But now, at least five initiatives led by prominent Trump allies or former advisors and strategists, are looking for donors and backing in this new initiative. Notably, all of them seem to have emerged within the past year, according to the Post.
"Trump and extremist Republicans have spent years lying to the American people about elections and to see them hypocritically now embrace what they formally have denounced, I think, tells everything," Griswold said.
Undoubtedly, the rise of such groups dedicated to early voting marks a significant change for Republicans, who have long criticized such efforts and pushed out false claims alleging voter fraud. Their messaging has damaged GOP confidence in the vote count. The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that only 22% of Republicans have high confidence that votes in the upcoming presidential election will be counted accurately compared to 71% of Democrats.
Despite running for the White House for a third time, Trump has continued to promote the baseless assertion that the election was stolen. His rhetoric has resulted in a surge of new legislation in Republican-led states. These laws imposed additional voting restrictions, mainly targeting mail voting, shortening windows for returning mail ballots and placing constraints or bans on ballot drop boxes. Conspiracy theories concerning voting machines have led several Republican-led local governments to consider replacing machine tallies with hand counts.
"There have been over 300 bills just this year alone to suppress the vote, undermine elections and take away Americans' ability to make their voices heard," Griswold said. "What they do is lie to try to steal elections, that has not stopped."
Falsehoods about mail ballots and legal ballot collection are being used as a justification for political violence, for voter suppression and for inciting an insurrection, she added.
"You actually see lawmakers cite this information as they pass voter suppression laws," Griswold said. "Voter suppression bills predominantly target people of color."
She pointed to the example of Georgia in 2020, which saw a historic voter turnout that led the state to turn blue for the first time in decades. The state's Republican-controlled Legislature quickly responded by passing a new law to impose numerous voting access restrictions, which will have a major impact on Black voters, who form almost one-third of the state's population and vote overwhelmingly Democratic.
"So the lies go hand in hand with classic voter suppression. Classic voter suppression is about keeping away people of color and blue-collar people," Griswold said.
Despite generating skepticism around voting by mail for Republican voters, these falsehoods have also made their way into mainstream messaging, discouraging minority voters from casting their ballots by mail.
"The [shorter] deadlines and misinformation about that has kind of deterred Black voters and Brown voters from using vote by mail, in addition to the historical fear of voting by mail," said Mitchell Brown, a senior attorney at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
If Republicans carried out the same efforts in North Carolina and encouraged voters to cast their ballots by mail, this could be helpful to the movement of helping Black and Brown voters have access to the ballot box, Brown added.
For many years, North Carolina has experienced a push to eliminate early voting and voting by mail, which has created resistance to this very idea, Brown said.
But just because the Republican National Committee and Trump are now agreeing to the use of mail ballots, does not mean that this will happen all across the nation nor does it mean that every American will have access to the same opportunities, Griswold said.
"You can't undo the lies overnight," Griswold said. "The far-right's assault on American democracy has not stopped. The very fact that they use the term 'ballot harvesting', which is a conspiracy made popular by the far-right and Donald Trump shows that that this isn't about making sure that every eligible American can vote and choose their elected officials. They're continuing down the path of making sure that the people they want to vote are the people that get to vote, and that is undemocratic. It's unAmerican and these people who are trying to steal elections should be held accountable and never should serve in office."
Historically, Democrats have performed better in early and mail-in voting while Republicans have generally done better in in-person voting on Election Day. Now, a majority of the new GOP initiatives are primarily concentrating on early voting efforts as conservatives have pushed out the idea that the party suffered from discouraging voting before Election Day, the Post reported.
"One of the first lessons we have to take from the midterms is the power of early voting," tweeted conservative firebrand and founder of Turning Point Action Charlie Kirk last year.
In another tweet, he said, that telling everyone to vote in person on Election Day opens you to "traffic jams and machine malfunctions like what happened in Maricopa County." When that happens, "there's no rewinding time to change your strategy. You're at the mercy of the courts and voters' own schedules."
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This represents a significant departure from the party's stance since 2020 when Trump consistently cast doubt on mail voting and urged his supporters to vote in person on Election Day.
Until last year, Republican activists promoting the stolen election narrative advised GOP voters with mail ballots to keep them and submit them at their polling place on Election Day, rather than using mail or drop boxes.
But now, even Trump is urging donors to contribute to his "ballot harvesting fund," emphasizing in a fundraising email that "Either we ballot harvest where we can, or you can say goodbye to America!"
Turning Point Action has also launched an initiative, aiming to reinvent how Republicans engage with infrequent voters, taking inspiration from Democrats and liberal groups that have stationed full-time community organizers in key battleground states, according to the Post.
They're "raising money to hire 500 full-time organizers in Arizona, 800 in Georgia and 350 in Wisconsin, at a cost of $99 million to compensate each staffer at a $60,000 salary, according to the fundraising materials," the Post found.
This endeavor has sparked substantial criticism from some members of the Republican Party, who argue that Turning Point Action's budget is inflated and that the organization lacks the necessary tools to execute such an extensive operation, the report added.
The GOP's renewed effort to embrace vote by mail could hold significant importance, particularly in Arizona, with about 89% of Arizona voters casting ballots early, mostly by mail, in the 2020 general election, according to the Arizona Mirror.
Now, Kari Lake, the Republican candidate who lost the Arizona governor's race to Democrat Katie Hobbs by about 17,000 votes, is also echoing a similar message.
In May, she announced that she would launch "the largest ballot chasing operation in our nation's history." Lake is considering running for the U.S. Senate next year.
In Georgia, a county party launched an effort called "Unite the Right," aiming to promote early and mail voting among Republicans and to ensure ballot counting through tracing and "curing" procedures, the Post reported. Lumpkin County GOP chair Katherine James said the party is also in the process of developing customized scripts to engage various voter groups, including college students and churchgoers.
"It is important to understand that just because Donald Trump and people like the RNC chair decided 'oh, maybe it's a bad idea to tell my voters not to vote in the most accessible and secure way possible,' does not mean that the country can make a 180 overnight," Griswold said. "They have done tremendous damage to this nation through voter suppression, the insurrection, the killing and the political assassination of police officers on January 6, and the violence that has just taken over the country against election workers."
about GOP voter suppression