FEB 13, 2024
Illinois GOP trying to convince Republicans early and mail-in voting helps the party
Illinois Republican Party Chair Don Tracy speaks at Republican Day at the Illinois State Fair last August. [Ben Szalinski/The Daily Line]
Early voting and mail-in voting is OK and might even help Republicans win elections, the leader of the Republican Party told a large gathering of Illinois Republicans on Friday night as part of the party’s new embrace of practices to make voting more accessible.
The Illinois Republican Party convened more than 750 Republicans for a fundraiser in Rosemont on Friday night that raised more than $450,000 for the state party. The fundraiser was the first in the country for Republicans to push a new “Bank Your Vote” campaign to explain the political benefits of early voting and vote-by-mail to a party electorate that has been somewhat resistant to the practice.
“We have to, as a party, start utilizing mail-in and early voting,” Republican National Committee (RNC) Chair Ronna McDaniel said. “In Illinois, you can vote 40 days before Election Day and Democrats are doing it in your state, and we have to do it.”
The idea behind the “bank your vote” concept is that if reliable Republican voters turn out to vote early, their votes will have been “counted” and the party can focus their resources on independents, swing voters and those who aren’t sure if they will participate in the election. When Republican voters don’t “bank” their vote ahead of Election Day, the party is focusing resources on turning out reliable voters instead of the voters who ultimately sway the results of the election.
How much Republican voters will actually embrace the early voting strategies remains to be seen. McDaniel is reportedly stepping down as chair at the end of February to make way for a new RNC chair who aligns more with likely presidential nominee Donald Trump. Trump has suggested that mail-in voting leads to fraud and has used the practice to fuel doubts about election integrity and his loss in the 2020 election. Trump said last month “we have to get rid of mail-in ballots” because it causes “crooked elections.” However, Trump did record a video last year encouraging Republicans to vote early and the support the RNC’s “bank your vote” initiative.
The event’s keynote speaker, Louisiana Republican Sen. John Kennedy, speaking immediately after McDaniel, didn’t express any support for the RNC and Illinois GOP’s 2024 strategy.
“I believe that we should have an election day, not election month,” Kennedy said, drawing one of the largest cheers of the program.
Illinois Republican Party Chair Don Tracy told The Daily Line that Kennedy’s remarks didn’t hurt the message of the fundraiser and aren’t an inconsistency in the party’s platform. He said the party can play by existing election rules, but also advocate for changes, such as redesigning the election calendar around Election Day.
“They know well that they are two separate issues,” Tracy said. “Fair and honest voting rules versus playing by the rules as they exist. We’ve got to communicate that we may not like the lack of election integrity guardrails, but we’ve got to take full advantage.”
The Democratic Party of Illinois found it ironic the Illinois GOP used Kennedy as the main attraction of an event promoting expanding voting options. Kennedy has cast doubt on the validity of the 2020 election and was one of only a few U.S. senators who voted against certifying electoral college votes from certain states on Jan. 6, 2021. The party sent out a news release pointing to various examples of Illinois officials arguing against limited voting options, such as Illinois GOP-supported U.S. Rep. Mike Bost’s unsuccessful efforts to limit counting of mail-in ballots.
“The IL GOP won’t disavow Bost’s efforts to restrict Illinoisans’ right to vote, John Kennedy’s history of pushing election fraud, or Donald Trump’s anti-democratic agenda, but they are happy to take up this new-found passion for early and absentee voting when electorally convenient,” Democratic Party of Illinois Chair Lisa Hernandez said in a statement.
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If Republicans across the country, and especially in blue states like Illinois, want to turn the tides, embracing successful get-out-the-vote strategies that are working for Democrats is necessary, McDaniel said. Across the country, she said 45 percent of Democrats who voted in 2022 voted early, compared to 22 percent of Republicans, McDaniel said. Low early turnout is costly and strains Republican resources.
“If you’re holding your ballot from that first day all the way to Election Day and you don’t vote until Election Day, you know what that means?” McDaniel asked the crowd. “We are spending money trying to get you to vote. So, because Democrats did such a better job in 2022 and they turned out 347,000 more voters, they saved $5.5 million that they were able to [use to] go find independent and swing voters and put more money into the election.”
Tracy didn’t have an exact dollar figure on how the lack of early voting costs Illinois Republicans resources but said that the cost of reminding Republicans to vote for 40 days from the time early voting starts until Election Day adds up.
“All that costs very limited [get-out-the-vote] resources,” Tracy said. “Democrats in Illinois have way more money in Illinois than we have because of Pritzker bucks and special interests ... They already have a huge advantage in terms of money. If our Republican voters aren’t voting early, then it hurts even more.”
Though the event alluded to some divisions between party leadership’s strategy and Trump’s views, the former president and the party’s likely 2024 nominee was never mentioned during the speaking program. Even Kennedy’s joke-filed speech opted to limit his digs directly at President Joe Biden and tried rallying Republicans against the Democratic Party’s platform in general.
“I believe that Republicans are not perfect,” Kennedy said. “But the other side is crazy as hell. The American people do not deserve to be governed by a deeply weird, nauseously woke people who hate George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head. Who hyperventilates on their yoga mats when you use the wrong pronouns. Who think kids should be able to change their gender at recess. Who carry around Ziploc bags of kale to give themselves energy and think they’re better than us.”
Kennedy has been no stranger to controversial statements during his seven years as Louisiana’s junior senator. Last year he butted heads during a Senate hearing on book bans with Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias, including in a viral moment where Kennedy read graphic quotes from a children’s book to Giannoulias.
“The words you spoke are disturbing, especially coming out of your mouth is very disturbing,” Giannoulias told Kennedy at the hearing.
The pair engaged in a back-and-forth debate during the hearing over whether libraries should be allowed to ban books with graphic content, such as what Kennedy read, or if, as Giannoulias argued, decisions about what books children read are better left up to individual parents.
“I think I make the right people mad,” Kennedy said Friday, acknowledging his often-outspoken personality.
“I don’t hate anyone, so I say this again: the Biden administration sucks,” Kennedy said in one of his only digs at the president.
Instead, as Republicans in Congress grab headlines for being unable to come to agreements with each other, Kennedy tried selling the audience that voters are better off with Republicans in power.
“I believe that what we accomplished when Republicans controlled Washington, D.C. made our country better and made all of our lives better,” Kennedy said, listing accomplishments under Trump’s administration.
Tracy attributed Congress’ gridlock to the small Republican majority in the House while Democrats control the Senate and White House.
“Illinois is probably the best example of government dysfunction,” Tracy said. “What the Democrats are trying to do is make the entire country look a lot like Illinois. And the only solution to that is to elect more Republicans up and down the ballot.”
Tracy is also thinking about what the party might be losing if McDaniel steps down later this month. He said McDaniel has been a great resource to him since he took the helm of the Illinois GOP three years ago and believes her lengthy experience in politics in Michigan, beginning as a member of the powerful Romney family, makes her an asset to Republicans across the country. Tracy said he believes McDaniel is often unfairly blamed for issues such as legal limits on fundraising.
“I really hope that rumor is not true … I think this close to the election it would be a mistake to change someone as experienced and successful as Ronna,” Tracy said, adding he doesn’t yet have an opinion about McDaniel’s successor, though he will be a voting member for the RNC.
With or without McDaniel in charge nationally, Illinois Republicans can expect more gala-style fundraisers.
“I think the importance of the gala is it was just a really great morale boost for Illinois Republicans,” Tracy said. “I think it showed we are rebuilding.”
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