The North Carolina Republican Party spent $213,000 on glossy mailers sent out in August to voters believed to be supporters of President Trump.
“Urgent Notice,” the mailers warned, alongside a photo of the president. On the flip side, voters found a tear-off application for an absentee ballot.
“Are you going to let the Democrats silence you?” the mailers asked, urging Republicans to fill out the application and send it in to obtain a mail-in ballot.
Similar appeals have flooded mailboxes in Georgia, Ohio, Texas, Wisconsin and other battleground states, part of a multimillion-dollar effort by state Republican parties to promote absentee voting, reinforced by text-message blasts and robocalls from Mr. Trump’s campaign and its surrogates.
Yet those efforts may have been undercut by Mr. Trump himself, whose repeated assertions that the mail-in voting is rigged, including several focusing on North Carolina, may have scared away his own supporters. His messaging could be one reason Republicans lag far behind Democrats in requesting mail ballots in North Carolina and elsewhere, experts said.
“It’s unbelievable and obviously at cross purposes with maximizing the Republican vote,” said Bill Weld, a former Republican governor of Massachusetts who challenged Mr. Trump for the Republican nomination this year. “The president is definitely inflicting a leak below the water line.”
Historically, Republicans led in efforts to capture absentee votes, devising a program to identify Republicans who might vote by mail, particularly in Florida, and make sure they sent in their ballots, according to Stuart Stevens, a longtime Republican operative.
“It was something that we Republicans felt we did better than the Democrats did,” said Mr. Stevens, recalling a National Republican Senatorial Committee operation that began in the 1980s. “And it’s been kind of a crown jewel of the Republican operation.”
Mr. Stevens, author of a recent book critical of both Mr. Trump and the party, said the president might be sabotaging his own campaign.
“If Trump loses this election it could very well be because he attacked vote by mail,” said Mr. Stevens, who believes the president’s comments have been particularly confusing to older voters, a core Republican constituency that also fears contracting the coronavirus.
“The double irony is, who is more nervous about voting in person? Older voters, because, geez, they might die,” Mr. Stevens said. “If Trump doesn’t win older voters, there’s no path to victory for him in this race. He’s specifically suppressing Republican senior votes.”
So far this year, Republicans are well behind Democrats in applying for mail ballots, several experts said.
“There is a very clear trend in many key states in which Democrats — either registered Democrats or voters that political pros model as Democratic voters — are requesting mail-in ballots at a significantly higher clip than Republicans,” said Kyle Kondik, the managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics.
A running tally by J. Michael Bitzer, a professor of political science at Catawba College in North Carolina, found that Democrats in the state had requested nearly three times as many absentee ballots as Republicans.
As of Sept. 17, according to his analysis, 889,000 ballots had been requested; of those, 448,000 requests were from registered Democrats and 154,000 from registered Republicans. (The rest were either unaffiliated voters or members of other parties.)
An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in August found that nearly half of supporters of Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic nominee, planned to use mail votes, while 66 percent of Mr. Trump’s supporters said they intended to vote in person.
Election 2020 ›
Understand Mail-In Voting
- Rise in Mail Voting: About three-quarters of all American voters will be eligible to receive a ballot in the mail for the 2020 election — the most in U.S. history. Roughly 80 million mail ballots may flood election offices, more than double what was returned in 2016.
- Surge in Paper Mail: The long-troubled Postal Service may be overwhelmed by the task of delivering tens of millions more votes cast by mail.
- How to Count Ballots? There may be various battles over how to count ballots. Should mailed ballots be counted if they are received by Election Day or simply postmarked by Election Day? Does a ballot count if the post office does not postmark it at all?
- Do You Still Have Time?: Voters in 35 states can request ballots so close to Election Day that it may not be feasible for their ballots to be mailed to them and sent back to election officials in time to be counted. Here’s a list of state’s where it’s risky to procrastinate.
- A Long Road to Election Day: It is estimated that party organizations, campaigns and interest groups across the county have already filed 160 lawsuits trying to shape the rules of the election.
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