Trump-backed GOP leaders call for embrace of early and mail-in voting even as former president continues to cast doubt

Top Republican officials have begun making some of their most overt calls yet for the party to better embrace early voting and vote-by-mail options.

In recent TV appearances, memos to keyed-in party officials and public statements, GOP operatives and party leaders have pushed to clear the fog of past statements by Donald Trump casting doubt and discouraging Republicans from voting any other way but on Election Day.

“We’ll have early voting in Michigan for the first time. We’ll take advantage of it,” a top Republican National Committee official said on a press call Thursday. “Mail ballots are not very old in Pennsylvania. We’ll have an opportunity to grow that. Ballot harvesting in Nevada is legal under certain circumstances. We’ll take advantage of it.”

The arguments follow years of at times contradictory statements from the former president about the legality and safety of voting by mail or voting absentee. In recent election cycles, Republican strategists have fretted about their voters’ confidence in early voting options and if those doubts helped boost Democrats in some of the most competitive races across the country in recent election cycles.

In an interview Monday on Fox News, Lara Trump, the former president’s daughter-in-law and the newly installed RNC co-chair, said Republicans had to match Democrats in encouraging their voters to take advantage of early voting and absentee voting options.

“We would love to have one day of voting. We would love to have voter ID and paper ballots. We can get back to that place … but we have to do it by electing Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, expanding our lead in the House and taking back the Senate and maybe we get back there one day. We gotta play the hand that we’re dealt and that means as soon as you can go vote, go vote out there and then you spend your time, every single day from that day on until Election Day, taking people to vote,” Lara Trump said. “We are going to have a legal ballot harvesting operation at the RNC. It’s something that has never been done before.”

Those comments came days after the RNC’s new Trump-backed chairman, Michael Whatley, sent a memo to the body of 168 committee members and party chairs, saying that “encouraging our voters to utilize early voting and vote-by-mail are top priorities as we reorganize the political operation at the RNC.”

“Over half of all voters are expected to vote before Election Day, and we must communicate with them before they vote - whether that is by mail, in-person early voting or on Election Day,” Whatley wrote in the memo obtained by CNN.

Efforts to encourage Republican voters to take advantage of voting early, vote-by-mail options or ballot harvesting – which lets third parties collect and deliver voters’ ballots – are not new. Party lawmakers and strategists have been encouraging Republicans to vote by mail for years. But since 2016, as the former president has retained an iron grip on the party, he has vacillated between encouraging and discouraging Republicans to take advantage of advance voting. Over the same period of time, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic, Democrats have been working to reinforce their party infrastructure for early voting.

“The [Republican] Party does not have a single message about all of this, in contrast to the Democrats, who – at least in 2020 – had a really unified message,” said Barry Burden, the director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “And they also developed the infrastructure to figure out how to navigate the 50 state laws and determine who has already voted early and how to reach out to people who have requested absentee ballots but not returned them. That’s very much a state-by-state process.”

“Republicans will have to develop that if they decide they want to push mail voting and early voting or both. My guess is they aren’t there yet. There’s a lot of work to be done if they end up going that route to some degree,” Burden said.

Some Republican strategists worry that any moves at this point to match Democrats might be too little, too late.

“I hope that it has improved a bit and that it does improve every cycle, but I have no level of confidence that our advance voting turnout operation as a party is where it needs to be,” said a veteran Republican campaign manager, who requested anonymity to speak frankly. “We ain’t where we need to be. And our nominee is my dear leader, and I love him dearly. But you have an entire segment of our base that is now inherently skeptical of advanced voting.”

An uneven approach

Participation in early voting has varied over the past few election cycles. According to a research paper from the MIT Election Data and Science Lab, 32% of voters cast ballots by mail in the 2022 elections, “down more than 10 percentage points from 2020 and more than doubling the fraction from 2016.” The report, “How We Voted in 2022,” found that 46% of Democrats and just 27% of Republicans said they voted by mail, a change from 60% of Democrats and 32% of Republicans who did so in 2020 at the height of the pandemic.

Republicans’ uneven approach to early voting reached an apex during the pandemic when Trump would regularly cast doubt on the safety and security of voting by mail or voting early. He claimed that massive electoral fraud was underway by Democrats through vote-by-mail options.

“Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to statewide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it,” he tweeted in 2020. “Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”

While at other times, Trump – with the prodding of aides and allies – has encouraged base GOP voters to utilize early voting and vote by mail, his skepticism has endured.

In January, after winning the Iowa caucuses, the former president said, “We have to get rid of mail-in ballots because once you have mail-in ballots, you have crooked elections.” He repeated those claims earlier this month in an interview with Britain’s GB News, saying, “Any time the mail is involved, you’re going to have cheating.”

Those remarks stand in contrast to recent Republican pushes to resurrect past confidence in voting before election day. In 2023, as Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin crisscrossed his state to boost GOP candidates in the legislative elections, he urged voters to vote by mail or vote early.

“Vote early. Vote early. Vote early,” the governor pleaded during a campaign stop to promote his “Secure Your Vote Virginia” program. “Folks, we don’t know if a child is going to get sick” on Election Day, he continued. “We don’t know if something is going to happen at work.”

“Republicans got to stop sitting on the sidelines and allowing the Democrats to do a better job of voting early. I’m tired of us going into elections down thousands of votes,” Youngkin told Fox News last fall.

Earlier that year, the RNC, under then-chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, announced a new effort to encourage Republicans to vote ahead of election day. The “Bank Your Vote” program would “encourage voters to pledge to ‘Bank’ their vote, which will activate digital reminders from the RNC on all applicable pre-Election Day voting options,” according to a RNC news release announcing the program. The chairs of the Senate and House Republican campaign arms appointed Tennessee Sen. Bill Hagerty and Florida Rep. Byron Donalds, both Trump allies, as co-chairs of that effort.

Trump himself cut an ad for the Bank Your Vote program in July.

“We may not like the current system but we need to master the rules and beat the Democrats at their own game and then we can make our own rules,” Trump said in the ad. “Republicans must get tougher and fight harder to cast our votes and get our ballots turned in earlier so Democrats can’t rig the polls against us on Election Day. We can not let that happen.”

Currently, the RNC has deployed “political and election integrity directors” in 15 states charged with get-out-the-vote efforts, as well as training poll watchers and recruiting volunteers. The committee says it would be “political malpractice” not to engage in mail or absentee voting in swing states that allow some form of it such as Nevada, Arizona and Wisconsin, among others.

But the danger for Republicans is that disillusionment with mail-in voting or voting early, fueled in large part by Trump, might be too deeply baked into party sentiment. A Pew Research Center analysis of surveys conducted after the 2022 midterms found that 58% of Republican voters were not confident that their mail-in or absentee votes had been counted accurately. For Democrats, 94% expressed confidence that those ballots were counted as intended.

“It’s pretty critical to the overall effort – a very robust early-vote, vote-by-mail operation,” said another veteran GOP strategist and RNC alumnus, stressing that if Republicans don’t invest in early ballot access operations, “there’s just no way that the votes are there.”

“You leave absentee ballots on the table and try to get those people to vote on Election Day, it’s like getting a golf ball through a garden hose,” the strategist said. “So, if it’s terrible weather on election day, you’ve got that October Surprise, whatever it is, those votes are in the bank. So instead of needing a million votes on Election Day, you need 313,000 on Election Day.”

CNN’s Fredreka Schouten and Kate Sullivan contributed to this report.

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at