After five months of tweets and soundbites from President Trump warning that voting by mail will lead to a “rigged election” and “massive voter fraud,” a clear partisan divide is forming among those participating in that process.
Election officials in key general election battleground states are noticing a surge of requests for absentee ballots by Democrats – upending a trend of Republicans in some crucial states typically dominating voting by absentee ballot through the mail.
In North Carolina, which last Friday became the first state to start sending out general election ballots to registered voters who requested them, more than three times as many Democrats than Republicans have sought ballots so far.
And it’s not just North Carolina.
In Florida – the largest of the crucial swing states – 47.5% of requests for ballots have come from Democrats and only 32% from Republicans. It’s a similar story in Pennsylvania – another key battleground state – where ballot requests by Democrats are nearly triple those of Republicans.
In Ohio, half of ballot requests so far have come from Democrats, with 38% coming from Republicans. In Wisconsin, right now an equal amount of Democrats and Republicans have requested ballots. Michigan currently appears to be the only key state where Republicans have the edge over Democrats in absentee ballot requests.
The trend began this spring, with the primary season upended as the coronavirus pandemic swept the nation. With serious health concerns of voting in person at polling stations amid the pandemic, many states took moves to make it easier to vote by absentee ballot – by mail or by depositing the ballots in a secure drop box.
And the trend continues. Figures from the secretary of state’s office in New Hampshire – which holds its state primary on Tuesday – indicate requests for Democratic primary ballots were nearly triple the requests for GOP primary ballots.
A recent USA Today/ Suffolk University national poll found that 56% of Republicans said they would vote in person on Election Day, compared with just 26% among Democrats. The poll indicated that Democrats are more than twice as likely than Republicans to vote by absentee ballot or mail.
Last month, after railing against voting by mail since the early spring, the president made an about-face in his charge against voting by mail – at least in Florida's case.
"Whether you call it Vote by Mail or Absentee Voting, in Florida the election system is Safe and Secure, Tried and True. Florida's Voting system has been cleaned up (we defeated Democrats attempts at change), so in Florida I encourage all to request a Ballot & Vote by Mail!" the president tweeted.
A few days later, Trump told supporters in North Carolina who had called into a telephone rally that “you can request absentee ballots right now. Absentee ballots are great."
Regardless of his opinion of voting by mail in Florida and North Carolina, some Republicans remain concerned that the president’s rhetoric on voting by mail will come back to bite the GOP this autumn.
Former Rep. Zach Wamp, a conservative from Tennessee and one-time Trump critic who’s working with the election advocacy group Issue One to push for Congress to approve more election security funding, recently told Fox News he’s “concerned that the president may be unintentionally suppressing the very voters who are most upset with the mob and the socialist agenda.”
“They typically are more conservative which means they like to be careful in how they vote,” Wamp emphasized.
And former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who last year launched a long-shot unsuccessful primary challenge against the president, recently told Fox News that Trump’s attacks on voting by mail “will suppress Republican turnout in battleground states.”
Pointing to the voting-by-mail registration in Florida, Weld argued that “Trump can’t afford to give up such a margin in who’s going to be voting by mail.”
But Erin Perrine, the Trump reelection campaign’s director of press relations, told Fox News that “the president by no means has said that people should not vote absentee, to request a ballot, to put a ballot in the mail.”
“If you are in a higher comorbidity section of the country, if there are concerns, absolutely request your absentee ballot and submit it early. Make sure that your vote has been counted,” Perrine said Monday on Fox News’ "America’s Newsroom."
Republicans generally have directed their warnings toward vote-by-mail states that are sending ballots to voters whether they request them or not.
And Republican National Committee national press secretary Mandi Merritt told Fox News that “our voters are highly motivated by their enthusiasm for President Trump and are going to vote - many just prefer to vote in person either by early voting or on Election Day. The reality is no one is better at turning out voters than Trump victory, and the Biden campaign simply can't match our ground game."