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Republican Party pushing mail-in voting despite Trump's opposition

Trump has claimed that mail-in voting is "totally corrupt."

April 5, 2024, 2:01 PM

Just weeks into his tenure as chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Whatley pitched to voters something that former President Donald Trump has spoken against consistently throughout the campaign trail: mail-in voting.

"We need to build a national early-vote program that is going to communicate with [voters] through door knocks, through phone calls, through mail, through digital, through data. But we can't wait until the week before the election," Whatley said at the New York Republican State Committee's annual gala Thursday night -- one of his first public speeches since accepting the role last month.

"Voters can vote early. They can vote on Election Day. They can vote by mail. Do I care how they vote? No, I do not. I care that they vote," the Trump-backed chairman continued.

Despite Trump's many deprecatory comments regarding mail-in voting, it's a plan that Republican party leaders now seem to be embracing.

Lara Trump, Trump's daughter-in-law whom he tapped to serve as RNC co-chair, has publicly supported early voting and vote-by-mail efforts, claiming Trump would switch his tune because of the election security initiatives the RNC was working on.

PHOTO: Michael Whatley, who became chair of the Republican National Committee on March 8 with the support of former President Donald Trump, speaks before Trump's arrival for a rally in Greensboro, NC, March 2, 2024.
Michael Whatley, who became chair of the Republican National Committee on March 8 with the support of former President Donald Trump, speaks before Trump's arrival for a rally in Greensboro, NC, March 2, 2024.
Jonathan Drake/Reuters

"We have to start encouraging Republican voters to do things like voting early, trust mail-in voting. These are ways that we actually can have a big lead as we head into Election Day. And these are things that traditionally Republicans have sort of shied away from," Lara Trump said in a NBC News interview, adding "We're embracing it this election cycle."

In June, the RNC launched a "Bank Your Vote" initiative under the leadership of former Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel in an effort to combat Republican distrust in early voting after doubt -- perpetuated by Trump -- was cast on the results of the 2020 presidential election

Though the former president has endorsed the Bank Your Vote initiative his RNC leadership is still touting, at campaign events he routinely disparages mail-in voting and has made unfounded claims about the process which he claims, in part, led to his 2020 election loss.

"Mail-in voting is totally corrupt. Get that through your head. It has to be," Trump said at a rally in Michigan in February, repeating unfounded claims about mail-in voting.

"Anytime the mail is involved, you're going to have cheating," Trump again falsely claimed during an interview with GB News' Nigel Farage last month.

Trump has been more accepting of early in-person voting in recent months, urging supporters in South Carolina and New Hampshire -- where early voting is already underway -- to go out and vote. Still, his messaging hints at election denialism.

"I will secure our elections. We are going to secure our elections. Our goal will be one-day voting with paper ballots -- very simple -- and a voter ID, but until then, Republicans must win. Landslide. We want it to be too big, too big to rig," Trump said at an April 2 rally in Wisconsin, where he continued to falsely claim he won the state in 2020.

PHOTO: Former President Donald Trump speaks during a "Get Out the Vote" rally in Waterford Township, MI, Feb. 17, 2024.
Former President Donald Trump speaks during a "Get Out the Vote" rally in Waterford Township, MI, Feb. 17, 2024.
Alex Wroblewski/AFP via Getty Images

Whatley says he's had several conversations with the former president about "stopping the steal" that MAGA Republicans have posited since 2020.

"First off, we are going to make sure in every single state that we have the right rules of the road, we have the right laws and regulations in place to ensure a fair election. We are going to work with state legislators, we are going to work with the regulators whether it's a secretary of state or a board of elections and we're going to make sure that we have those rules of the road set right. And if those folks won't work with us and we can't get it done, we're gonna go to court," he said Thursday.

"As the general counsel of the RNC and now the chair, I have filed over 80 lawsuits in 24 states around the country to make sure that it is going to be easy to vote and hard to cheat. We are also going to make sure that anytime a vote is cast or a vote is counted, we are in the room."

Trump's critics have pointed to his rhetoric on election security as reasons why Republicans have struggled to gain leads over Democrats heading into Election Day.

Now, mixed messaging from the party and its projected nominee could prevent some Republicans already skeptical of early voting practices from changing their ways, but some lawmakers say it's a necessary measure toward winning elections to implement the change they want to see.

"Embrace voting as it is. Now, I like voting on Election Day ... when I became a United States senator, I had to vote absentee," Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson said at Trump's rally to muted claps. "We need to embrace that. We can't afford to have a miserable Election Day on November and now have our votes already banked."

Former New York Rep. Lee Zeldin espoused similar sentiments with an air of sober reluctance at Thursday night's gala.

"I totally oppose universal mail-in balloting across the country. I believe that there shouldn't be ballot harvesting anywhere in any state in this country. There should be voter ID in every state in this country. But if the Democrats in Pennsylvania are going to legalize universal mail-in balloting, we have to do it better than the Democrats to the point that they regret legalizing it in the first place or we won't win these elections."