Early Voters Getting Mixed Messages on Mail-In Voting
1.8 millon Ohio voters have requested absentee ballots, more than twice the number at this point four years ago. Democratics are seizing the opportunity to vote early by mail, while Republicans are pulling back from that option. Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler reports.
Messages about early voting are coming from political parties, voting rights groups and the Secretary of State’s office…
“Don’t wait. With more Ohioans planning to vote absentee than ever, now is the time to submit your request.”
But there’s also this message from President Trump, from a White House press conference in April.
“I think that mail-in voting is a terrible thing. I think if you vote, you should go. And even the concept of early voting is not the greatest.”
He’s said that several times, and he’s also suggested that voters who mail in ballots also go to their polling places on election day with the intent to vote to test the system – an action which his fellow Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has said would be illegal in Ohio.
But the dueling messages appear to be having an effect on Ohio voters. Those who have voted Democratic in primaries are flooding boards of elections with absentee ballot requests – sometimes with more requests already then the total number of absentee ballots that were returned by Democratic-affiliated voters in all of 2016.
“Donald Trump and his rhetoric has pushed voters towards us. Now it's important for Democrats that we turn them out.”
Chris Redfern is the former chair of the Ohio Democratic Party and now chairs the party in bellwether Ottawa County, which voted for Trump in 2016. He’s also a Democratic campaign consultant.
“Absentee ballot requests are an indication of enthusiasm, but they're not an indication of support. What is an indication of support is if you can track those ballots, get them turned in once the absentee ballots are released in early October.”
Meanwhile, GOP affiliated voters have been lagging far behind Democrats in absentee ballot requests, and don’t seem to be embracing mail in voting like Democrats are.
“And Republicans are significantly less likely to do so. They're kind of following President Trump's lead and most of them plan to vote at the polls on Election Day.”
Neil Newhouse is a Republican pollster, and he admits the strategy is a bit of playing with fire.
“What happens on Election Day if we have bad weather someplace, or there’s long lines at the polls and people decide, oh, I'm going to turn around and not vote? So it's a little risky, but there’s enough intensity in this election in interest that I think voters are bound and determined to make sure their votes are cast.”
On that point, Redfern agrees.
“We'll continue to see record turnout with the early vote applications and then the early vote. I have no doubt about it. This was John McCain or Mitt Romney running for president in 2012, I'll be very, very worried. But there is no bottom for Donald Trump. He will say he will do anything to get elected and that will motivate Democrats all along.”
Newhouse says Republicans remain motivated too, and recent events, such as the death of US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, just make them more so.
“I think the intensity in this election was already a 12 on the one to 10 scale. And this just ratchets up to like 15. You know, it's it's hard to see how people could get any more focused in this election.”
And he says the presidential debate in Cleveland on September 29 will really matter, with voting starting exactly a week later.
Joe Biden was in Ohio right before the pandemic shutdown in March, and hasn’t come to Ohio since becoming the Democratic nominee. Trump has been to Ohio three times this year, including visits to Toledo and the Dayton area in the last few days. Polls have shown a close race in Ohio with Trump up slightly in most. Redfern is working for a Democratic win, and says he feels confident. But Newhouse says it’s a tall order for Biden to take back a state that President Trump won by more than 446,000 votes over Hillary Clinton. But he says he won’t predict anything.