TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Republicans once dominated voting by mail in Florida. But that was before President Donald Trump got involved.
After months of hearing Trump denigrate mail-in balloting, Republicans in the critical battleground state now find themselves far behind Democrats in the perennial push to urge their voters to cast ballots remotely. While Democrats have doubled the number of their voters who have requested mail ballots compared to 2016, Republicans have increased their numbers by about 20% since then.
The recent tally is the hard evidence confirming many Republicans' fears about Trump's tweeting about mail-in voting: GOP voters are listening and appear less likely to take advantage of what many election and health officials agree is the easiest and safest way to vote in a pandemic.
The numbers are so clear that Florida Republicans are shifting their emphasis from years past and are now trying to persuade voters to use another alternative to Election Day voting: in-person early voting.
“Did the president’s tweet cause it? Maybe a little bit, but it’s been shifting for years now,” said Susie Wiles, who has been tapped by the Trump campaign to help buoy the president’s newly troubled Florida campaign. “If COVID is still the level of concern that it is now, early vote is, after absentee, probably the next best option."
Political campaigns in both parties typically push their voters to cast ballots by mail because they can bank votes for their side in advance, freeing up scarce resources to chase down less-frequent voters and turn them out by Election Day. Amid the coronavirus, that push has become all the more urgent.
But while Democrats have tried to expand access to voting by mail, Republicans have struggled with what to tell their voters. Some have pushed for it, while Trump and his allies at the Republican National Committee have tried to limit expansion of remote voting.
Increasingly, GOP operatives and officials are voicing their concerns with that strategy. “Why give Democrats 10 or 11 days to vote and expect Republicans to vote on one day?” asked Rohn Bishop, Republican Party chair in Fond du Lac County, Wisconsin. “It puts us at a disadvantage.”