WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Tuesday, Dec. 6, Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair Ronna McDaniel spoke in favor of mail-in voting, despite her party’s repeated efforts to curtail the popular practice. GOP-affiliated groups, including the RNC itself, have filed a deluge of anti-voting lawsuits this year, many of which attack mail-in voting, but are now reckoning with these counterproductive efforts. McDaniel — currently running for re-election to RNC chair against far-right California politician and lawyer Harmeet Dhillon — stated on Fox News: “I have said this over and over again. There were many in 2020 saying, ‘Don’t vote by mail, don’t vote early.’ And we have to stop that.”
Due to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, states shifted their policies regarding mail-in voting, prompting its widespread use. Immediately, former President Donald Trump attacked mail-in voting as insecure and wrong, even though laws that permit anyone to vote by mail (not requiring a delineated excuse, such as age or disability) have been around for decades. A 2015 study on no-excuse mail-in voting laws adopted between 1972 and 2013 found that there was no partisan influence on adoption. While party control of neither the state legislature or governorship determined enactment of mail-in voting, other factors did — including having a larger share of elderly voters, a rural geographic spread or being a Western state.
The policy was noncontroversial for years, but Trump and his allies made it so. In 2021 alone, dozens of restrictive voting laws were enacted by Republican-controlled state legislatures, a large portion of which curtailed mail-in voting. Five states enacted more restrictive mail-in voting laws in 2022, which were in effect for the midterm elections. As of mid-September, more than half of GOP-affiliated lawsuits sought to limit mail-in voting. Even more have been filed since then. Now, after significantly underperforming in the November elections, the shifting messaging on mail-in voting is part of a growing trend of Republican leaders walking back on their party’s voter suppression strategy.
It’s too soon to tell whether McDaniel’s comments will indicate a revised tone among party leadership, but ironically, the following day, the Arizona Republican Party and its chairwoman were working hard in court to disband Arizona’s widely used, 1991 mail-in voting law.