Pennsylvania Republicans clash with Trump on mail-in voting

By Thomson Reuters Feb 23, 2024 | 11:55 AM

By Jarrett Renshaw

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – Pennsylvania Republican leaders are trying to raise millions of dollars to convince state voters to embrace mail-in ballots and to ignore criticism from their party’s likely presidential candidate, Donald Trump, over the practice.

The previously unreported effort puts Republican leadership in Pennsylvania, one of the most important battleground states in the 2024 presidential race, at odds with Trump over ‘absentee’ or mail-in balloting.

Trump, who continues to falsely allege he won the 2020 race, said this week “you automatically have fraud” when mail-in voting systems are used. The remarks are Trump’s latest in years of allegations, without evidence, that mail-in ballots make election results unreliable.

A small group of Pennsylvania Republicans are hoping to raise some $8 million to fund an education campaign in the state aimed at soothing Republican voters’ concerns about the integrity of casting ballots by mail, officials told Reuters. The money will fund staff to knock on doors in a personal persuasion campaign, officials said.

The effort is part of a broader rethinking by the Republican Party of the value of voting by mail, after the party tried in 2020 to stop its expansion. The Republican National Committee launched a nationwide “Bank Your Vote” campaign in 2023 to sell party voters on mail ballots and other early voting methods nationwide.

Democrats have seized on Pennsylvania’s 2019 expansion of mail ballots to dominate their Republican rivals to bank votes ahead of election day. Republican officials believe Trump’s constant attacks on mail balloting are give their opponents an edge, because Republican voters opt for same-day voting instead, leaving turnout vulnerable to illness or weather conditions.

In 2020, Biden received 1,995,691 mail-in votes to Trump’s 595,538 in Pennsylvania, which amounts to roughly 3 out of every 4 mail ballots cast for Biden in the state. Biden won Pennsylvania by less than 2% of the votes. “We just can’t let Democrats continue to have this advantage if we want to win,” said Dave White, a Republican who is helping organize the fundraising drive.

Jim Worthington, a Pennsylvania business owner and Trump ally involved in the push, says he has spoken directly to Trump about the issue.

“I’ve told him that if he comes out and endorses mail ballots, 75% of Republicans in the state will follow his lead. I have been assured that Trump and his team will embrace mail ballots,” Worthington said.

The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Bob Asher, an influential Republican leader in the state for decades, and Republican congressman Dan Meuser, who is part of Trump’s Pennsylvania leadership team, are also leading the fundraising efforts.

Some 46% of U.S. voters used mail-in or absentee ballots in the 2020 race at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, up from 21% in 2016, a survey by MIT political scientist Charles Stewart III found.

Between the 2020 election and 2022 midterms more than a dozen states, mostly led by Republicans, passed laws making it harder to vote, including restricting mail-in ballots. Pennsylvania and several other key battleground states were not part of that shift.

Twenty-eight states, including Pennsylvania, offer “no-excuse” absentee voting, which means that any voter can request and cast an absentee or mail ballot without offering a reason, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Sam DeMarco, Chairman of the Allegheny County Republican Committee, is concerned that failing to take advantage of the early voting period to increase Republican turnout can not just jeopardize Trump’s chance to win the swing state, but cost them down ballot races.

“The President’s remarks are not helpful in convincing donors to provide the money for a robust mail-in ballot effort, which many feel is desperately needed,” DeMarco said.

(Reporting By Jarrett Renshaw; Editing by Heather Timmons and Alistair Bell)