The GOP’s Vote-By-Mail Problem

What’s happening: The explosion of mail-in voting is transforming the nature of American elections, leading to a surge of unexpected Democrat victories in the past two election cycles. That could represent a ticking time bomb for the Republicans going into 2024.

The numbers: Mail-in voting surged amid sweeping changes to election laws in 2020. In 2016 and 2018, about a quarter of voters cast their ballots by mail; in 2020, that number jumped to more than 43 percent. The number of ballots mailed to voters doubled during the same time.

  • A skewed field: Mail-in ballots heavily favor Democrats. In 2020, 57 percent of Biden voters cast their ballots by mail. For Trump, that number sat below 18 percent.

Get used to it: The GOP’s criticisms of mail-in voting represent a political conundrum: The more Republicans rage against the voting method, the less likely GOP voters are to use it. But it’s unlikely the GOP will be able to reform the system in many Democrat-controlled key states. Republicans may have to get comfortable with mail-in voting — at least for now.

Making up ground: Republicans are attempting to level the playing field. In states like Virginia, the GOP has embraced mail-in voting. In California, Republicans are attempting to build out a competitive ballot-harvesting operation of their own. The RNC has also embarked on a “bank your vote” campaign, hoping to convince skeptical GOP voters to use the method.

Treading water: Thus far, at least, those efforts haven’t been enough to stop the bleeding for the GOP. (In Pennsylvania, for example, Democrats outflanked Republicans by a 4-to-1 margin with mail-in voters from 2020 to 2023). The Democrat mail-in voting machine still dwarfs the GOP’s, and lingering skepticism of the method remains among many Republican voters.