Voters benefit as GOP embraces early voting
For at least three years, many Republicans have been outspoken in their opposition to mail-in voting. More recently, however, some Republicans are getting on board with early voting, which in most states includes mail-in voting. This is good news for supporters of the GOP.
The first sign of change came in June when the Republican National Committee unveiled an initiative focused on winning the early vote in the 2024 presidential election. Building off this work, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) recently touted early and absentee voting as a key to Republican success in the state’s legislative elections this November. These announcements suggest that conservatives are starting to move past complaints about early voting and are instead focusing on winning elections under the rules as they currently exist. While far from indicating a consensus view on early voting, this strategy will benefit both GOP voters and candidates.
Early voting has become a mainstay of politics over the past decade. Forty six states now offer some form of early voting, and nearly 80% support access to early voting. It’s no wonder that a growing share of ballots were cast before Election Day over the past decade, in red and blue states alike.
The reason for the increase in early voting is straightforward. Early voting is far more convenient for busy people who would otherwise have to make time to vote amid work and family obligations and instead lets them participate at their convenience. It also removes millions of voters from the Election Day rush, a boon for Election Day voters, who benefit from shorter lines.
Nevertheless, Republicans grew wary of early voting in 2020. With the COVID-19 pandemic in full force, the public became increasingly polarized about the mechanics of early voting, and it suddenly became a partisan issue. Following the election, former President Donald Trump cited early voting, particularly mail-in voting, as a main contributor to his loss to President Joe Biden, notwithstanding his own decision to vote by mail. Despite Trump’s opposition, 60% of Republican voters continue to support the idea of early voting, and nearly half chose to vote early during the 2022 midterm elections.
Even as most Republican voters support access to early voting, the perception that Democrats benefit more from early voting prevails. But the research and recent election results suggest otherwise.
A recent study by researchers at Stanford and Tufts University found that many hotly contested election reforms, including early voting and vote by mail, don’t materially affect election outcomes or create partisan advantage. Rather, unlike the poll taxes and literacy tests under Jim Crow that disenfranchised black voters and influenced outcomes in a partisan way, today’s reforms are “relatively balanced in their partisanship” and have an imperceptible impact on outcomes.
Indeed, strong Republican performances in recent elections have shown that access to early voting does not create a barrier to victory. In Virginia, Youngkin flipped the state red in 2021 in the first election cycle after the state expanded the early voting period and removed barriers to voting absentee. Similarly, in 2022, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) overwhelmingly won his reelection campaign in a state where roughly two-thirds of voters cast their ballots before Election Day.
Heading into the 2023 and 2024 elections, Republican candidates would be well served to encourage reliably red voters to cast early ballots so that last-minute campaign resources can be allocated toward persuading undecided voters and increasing turnout among Election Day supporters.
Debates over the detailed mechanics of the early voting system, such as the number of early voting days, deadlines for receiving mail ballots, and the timing of ballot processing, will continue in state capitals in the years ahead. By pivoting to support early voting, Republicans are making it more likely that more members of their party will be present for those policy fights.