Trump’s Attacks on Early Voting Worry Some in GOP Over Turnout

(Bloomberg) -- When Donald Trump attacked early voting in New Hampshire Saturday, he was speaking to an audience who was excited to hear the message. Others aren’t so sure.

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Republican officials in the state, one of only four that don’t offer early in-person voting, applauded after Trump lamented its expansion since 2020, vowing that “someday” the US would “be back to doing it the way it’s supposed to be: one-day voting.”

But everywhere else in Trump’s 2024 campaign travels, Republicans are more wary. They worry that his attacks might persuade GOP voters to avoid early in-person voting, hampering turnout in general elections, and leaving the party more vulnerable to Election Day snafus like those in Arizona and Pennsylvania last November.

“When you stick all of your eggs in the basket of in-person voting on a single day, you set yourself up for problems,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

For now, Republicans in a number of states are tinkering around the edges of early voting laws, enough to keep the former president from complaining about them but not enough to discourage full voter participation.

In Texas, lawmakers have proposed cutting the early voting period in half or requiring rural and urban areas to offer the same early-voting hours in the week before Election Day. And in Virginia, lawmakers have proposed reducing the early voting period from 45 days before the election to two weeks.

Virginia Republican state Delegate Phil Scott, who co-sponsored the bill, said the long early-voting period is too expensive, especially in rural areas. He said his proposed 14-day window was “more than enough” for voters to cast a ballot.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed a law in early January that ended early voting on the Monday before Election Day.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said county elections officials in the state have long sought to eliminate in-person voting on the Monday before an election because it interferes with Election Day preparations. He said reallocating those hours to the evenings and weekend before the election when it’s convenient for voters is a “win-win” for voters and election officials.

“People that want to complain about this, it’s almost as though they’re just looking for something,” LaRose said.

Early voting was also a topic of discussion in the election for Republican National Committee chair last week, with both Chair Ronna McDaniel and challenger Harmeet Dhillon arguing that the GOP must embrace it — despite Trump’s opposition — to be competitive with Democrats.

“We have differences of opinion in the party,” Dhillon, a California attorney who lost to McDaniel, told reporters before last week’s vote. “I’ve come around to the position that we need to be voting as early as possible, everywhere legal in the country.”

Gallup polls found that Republican support for early voting dropped from 74% in 2016 to 60% in 2022, while Democratic support rose, leading to a 35-point partisan gap on the issue.

That may be having a downstream effect on how members of both parties vote, too. In North Carolina, for example, the Democratic edge on early in-person votes grew from roughly a half a percentage point in 2020 to 5.5 percentage points in 2022, according to data compiled by the US Elections Project.

Brian Schimming, the chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said he’s trying to sell the advantages of Republicans voting early to skeptical activists by emphasizing the need to be competitive with Democrats .

“I think there’s a sea change on early voting,” Schimming said in an interview, adding that he plans to vote early by mail for the first time in the state’s closely watched state Supreme Court justice election this year.

Republican consultant Robert Cahaly said that the party needs to be pragmatic in its approach, taking advantage of all of the methods of voting that are in place.

“It’s just accepting the rules of the game, even if you don’t like them,” he said, drawing a comparison to professional baseball. “If you play in the National League, you might not like the designated hitter rule, but it’s there, and you’d better learn to win with it.”

Among the most Trump-friendly states, lawmakers in Arizona have proposed ending early in-person voting and the use of early voting centers, although the bills would be blocked by Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs.

--With assistance from Mark Niquette.

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