Across the country, the GOP’s disappointing midterm results kick-started the party’s attitude toward early voting and mail-in ballots. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley — both potential 2024 GOP presidential candidates — recently said Republicans can’t just ignore the voting mechanisms that Democrats have taken advantage of.
But the about-face is particularly stark in Pennsylvania, where Republicans have taken a particularly hardline approach to mail-in voting.
Although nearly all Republican state lawmakers backed a 2019 law legalizing mail-in voting without an excuse, GOP officials changed their tune in the 2020 presidential election, when then-President Donald Trump , has repeatedly and forcefully criticized voting by mail.
Their critique of the method continued from there. Pennsylvania Republicans have attacked Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the state’s top election official for how they implemented the 2019 Absentee Voting Act. They blasted court rulings on the procedure , including those that allowed the use of drop boxes and allowed absentee ballots to be received up to three days after the 2020 election, provided they were postmarked on Election Day.
2022 Pennsylvania GOP gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano pledged during his campaign to eliminate no-apology mail-in voting and led the movement to void the state’s 2020 presidential election. . Republican lawmakers in the state have filed a lawsuit in an attempt to strike down the very vote-by-mail law they helped pass. Republican Jake Corman, outgoing state senate president pro tempore, said mail-in voting should be scrapped.
But the blue wave that hit Pennsylvania in 2022 — in which Republicans lost key races for governor, Senate, House and state legislature — is forcing the GOP to reevaluate.
“Republicans are focused on Election Day turnout and Democrats started a month early,” said former Rep. Lou Barletta, who unsuccessfully ran for governor in the GOP primary. This year. “If we want to win, if Republicans want to win, they have to get better at ‘mail-in voting.’
Many Pennsylvania Republicans continue to hope that the state’s mail-in ballot law will be repealed. And there is no indication that they will stop proposing bills to end mail-in voting.
But with Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro set to take office next year, they recognize that these bills are unlikely to be signed into law, at least in the near future. They are therefore committed to working within the system.
“Democrats have transformed the electoral landscape with their mail-in voting systems in many states — and Republicans must respond by winning this battle decisively,” said Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.).
Since Election Day, Pennsylvania Republicans have said in interviews and autopsies that party apparatuses and outside conservative groups must persuade voters — especially irregular voters who support the GOP — to take advantage of mail-in voting and to make it a key part of their operations to get the vote.
“Republican and conservative activists need to embrace mail-in voting because it’s not going away anytime soon,” GOP state Rep. Russ Diamond wrote in a postmortem on his website. “Our goal is not to convince regular voters to vote by mail, but to figure out how to cultivate mail-in votes from registered Republicans who rarely vote or don’t vote at all.”
But the GOP faces a well of mistrust within its base. In this year’s gubernatorial race, Shapiro received more than one million votes by mail, according to the Pennsylvania State Department. Mastriano won just 187,000. Even in the tighter Senate race, the Democrat John Fetterman collected 960,000 absentee ballots, while Mehmet Oz only collected 234,000.
Republicans also admit their party currently lacks the infrastructure to compete with Democrats on mail-in voting in swing states like Pennsylvania.
“Democrats have these interest groups, like EMILY’s list, Planned Parenthood, that send out mail-in 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 buy into the idea and promote the idea.”
Lawrence Tabas, chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, did not back down from his belief that Democrats botched the implementation of the state’s new mail-in ballot law in 2020. Nonetheless, he said , the GOP needs to adjust to the reality that mail-in voting is a legal way to vote in the state.
“I intend to work to encourage and get our voters to vote by mail,” he said. “I mean, some 650,000 ballots were cast this year before the debate in the US Senate even took place. You have 50 days to vote by mail. If you’re voting at the polls, it’s 1 p.m. We beat the Democrats at the polls. But mail is something we need to work on.
Trump is hanging on to efforts by Republicans in Pennsylvania and across the country to embrace mail-in voting. The former president has gone on to claim that the method is inherently untrustworthy and partly responsible for his defeat in the 2020 election.
Unlike some National Republicans, Tabas was quick to say Trump was a problem when it came to the party’s issues with mail-in voting. He said the former president “wasn’t a fan of mail-in voting and was critical of it, which didn’t help.”
But, by and large, Republicans in the state seem ready to go ahead with mail-in voting regardless of what Trump says. Many concluded that they could not win otherwise. Charlie Gerow, vice chairman of the Pennsylvania-based Conservative Political Action Coalition, compared the GOP’s approach to mail-in voting to a basketball player who refrains from shooting behind the three-point line because he doesn’t don’t like the rule.
“You could play a game that way. And more often than not, you would lose,” he said. “Or you can say, ‘Hey, I don’t like the three-point line. But damn it, I’m gonna be the best three-point shooter you can find. And that’s what I think Republicans need to be now.