GOP voters told to keep mail-in ballots through Election Day

ATLANTA (AP) — Republican activists who believe the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump have hatched a plan they say will prevent cheating in this year’s midterm elections.

The strategy: Vote in person on Election Day or, for voters who receive a mail-in ballot, keep it and deliver it to a polling station or election office on Nov. 8.

The plan is based on unfounded conspiracy theories that fraudsters will manipulate voting systems to rig Democrats’ results once they see how many Republican votes have been returned early. There is no evidence of such widespread fraud.

If enough voters are deterred from voting early, it could lead to long lines on Election Day and delay the processing of those mail-in ballots that arrived late. Those ballots would probably not be counted until the next day or later.

“It just slows everything down,” said Noah Praetz, the former election clerk for Cook County, Illinois, who now advises local election offices on best practices and security. “In many places, if you don’t get mail-in ballots before Election Day, you don’t count them until after Election Day.”

There are no proof of widespread fraudcheating or manipulation voting machines in the 2020 elections. Comprehensive Reviews in the States challenged by Trump confirmed Victory for Democrat Joe Bidenand legal challenges pursued by the former president and his allies have been rejected by many judges, including those appointed by Republicans.

It didn’t stop conspiracy theories that have spread over the past two years, fueled by Trump, allies including Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow and a crop of Republican candidates looking for a job this year. Calls to hold ballots until the last minute have intensified in recent weeks, according to a review of social media accounts by The Associated Press.

“It’s much easier to catch any fraud,” Lindell, who promoted the last-minute podcast voting strategy, told the AP in a recent interview. Lindell, through various events, sought to prove that voting machines were manipulated to favor Biden in 2020.

Trump also weighed in, telling a recent rally that voting on Election Day was better because “it’s a lot harder for them to cheat that way.”

The strategy pushed by the Tories comes after the use of mail-in ballots soared in the 2020 election amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The end of pandemic restrictions, Trump’s attacks on mail-in ballots and new voting restrictions in some Republican-led states have led to a drop in mail-in ballot use this year, but it remains a popular option for many voters.

Experts say a last-minute crush of ballots could end up creating delays that can be used by a bad actor to undermine confidence in the election.

“It’s an opening for people to start questioning and stirring up distrust and mistrust,” said Chris Piper, former commissioner of the Virginia Department of Elections.

Discouraging early voting and encouraging voters to keep their mail-in ballot until Election Day runs counter to the efforts of most campaigns. Republican and Democratic candidates generally want to have as many ballots as possible before Election Day so they can focus their efforts on getting latecomers to the polls and persuading undecided voters.

The dueling approaches have resulted in a confusing array of messages for Republican voters.

In Georgia, a recent grassroots group online flyer said, “Voting in person and on election day is the only way to overwhelm the system. A conservative group in the state, VoterGA, has told its members to “protect” their votes by requesting an absentee ballot early and waiting to deliver it until Election Day.

State Republican Party Chairman David Shafer recently tweeted on the party’s official account, “Voting in person early is just as safe as voting in person on Election Day!

The cross-messaging is also affecting Republican voters in Arizona, which is hosting high-stakes races for U.S. Senate, governor and secretary of state this year. Mail-in voting has been popular there among voters of both parties for years.

State Senator Wendy Rogers, a Republican who supported a partisan revision of the 2020 ballots in Maricopa County, told One America News Network viewers earlier this month that “we need to vote the last day, election day, so they don’t know how much to cheat.

But his party’s best candidates – who also adopted false allegations about the 2020 elections – have recently tried to counter this strategy.

“If you have an absentee ballot, I think you should mail it. I want people to vote,” Kari Lake, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, told reporters this month. “And vote as you want, but vote.”

Lake was among those who called for a rollback of mail-in ballots and early voting, favoring a single day of in-person voting instead. Blake Masters, the Republican Senate candidate from Arizona who also has Trump’s backing, said it’s fine to vote by mail if that’s what a voter prefers.

“I want to know the results on election night,” Masters told reporters earlier this month. “I tell people to vote in person, if you can. Otherwise, vote early and return by mail. And know the result.

Whether the message to Republicans to keep their mail-in ballots is having any effect is unclear. In two politically important states, the rate of returning mail-in ballots is slower than in previous elections — though that could also mean voters remain undecided.

In Georgia, about 23% of mail-in ballots were returned just over two weeks before Election Day, up from about 35% around the same time in 2020 and nearly 37% in 2018. As of October 19 in Wisconsin, 45% of mail-in ballots had been returned compared to 56% at the same time in 2020 and 2018.

Some Democrats have also advocated submitting ballots at the last minute — but based more on political strategy than allegations of fraud.

Pam Keith, a lawyer, Democratic activist and former congressional candidate in Florida, said she thinks the predictability that Democrats will vote by mail gives Republicans an early clue about turnout levels. That’s why she’s advocating for a flurry of ballots at the last minute, catching Republicans off guard.

“By voting early, we’re showing our hand,” Keith said. “We show what our turnout will be. And if they know the overwhelming majority of mail-in ballots are up, then they know what they need to do to win.

Keith’s advice diverges from that of many Democratic candidates, who have encouraged their supporters to vote early and by mail.


Swenson reported from New York. Associated Press writers Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix and Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, contributed to this report.


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