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Florida Republicans launch vote-by-mail campaign despite Trump’s criticism

Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota

(The Center Square) – Florida Democrats have requested 1.6 million mail-in ballots for August’s primary, outpacing Republicans by 400,000 requests and raising fears among state GOP leaders that President Donald Trump’s criticism of voting by mail could nullify an advantage the party has used to win tight elections across the battleground state.

In response, the Republican Party of Florida has been mass-mailing flyers to GOP and independent voters statewide, urging them to request mail-in ballots.

The flyer features the first two sentences of a June 28 tweet by Trump stating, “Absentee ballots are fine. A person has to go through a process to get and use them.”

The next three sentences – “Mail-In Voting, on the other hand, will lead to the most corrupt Election is USA history. Bad things happen with Mail-Ins. Just look at Special Election in Patterson, N.J. 19% of Ballots a FRAUD!” – are blurred out.

The New Jersey case cited by Trump is an example of “ballot harvesting,” when advocates gather people with mail-in ballots and “help” fill them out. Otherwise, there is little evidence of national or statewide vote-by-mail fraud nationwide or in Florida.

Republican Party of Florida Chairman Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, maintains the president is not opposed to mail-in voting but is against universal mail-in elections – a distinction Trump fails to make.

Florida Republicans are “100 percent in lockstep with the president that we’re against the universal vote-by-mail system,” Gruters told the Orlando Sentinel. “(But) people that feel uncomfortable with voting in person, even though we’re months away, anybody has that right to request an absentee ballot. And the Florida Republicans have dominated in years’ past.”

That dominance could be at risk if Florida Republicans cannot overcome Trump’s criticism and state Republicans join many GOP voters nationwide in believing the president.

According to a CBS News Battleground Tracker poll posted Sunday, 25 percent of likely Trump voters nationwide said they will consider voting by mail in 2020 compared with 59 percent of likely Joe Biden voters.

Since 2002, Florida has been one of 27 no-excuse states, where voters can request a mail-in ballot without explaining why they want to do so or being absent from the state.

In 2016, state lawmakers, led by Republicans, unanimously agreed to replace “absentee voting” in state statute with “vote-by-mail” since Floridians do not need to be absent to vote by mail.

Voting by mail accounts for about one-third of votes cast statewide, according to the Florida Division of Elections (DOE).

In the 2016 presidential election, 1.18 million Florida Republicans voted by mail compared with 1.03 million Democrats. According to DOE, 63,976 more Democrats than Republicans failed to return ballots.

Trump won Florida’s 29 electoral votes by 112,911 votes. The 58,244 advantage in mail-in votes, and the nearly 64,000 Democrats who didn’t return ballots, were keys in his victory.

While the Republican National Committee (RNC) is spending $20 million in vote-by-mail legal challenges, the Democratic National Committee launched a campaign in March encouraging mail-in voting.

The Florida Democratic Party maintains it has made more than 3.8 million phone calls, texted 4.1 million voters and completed 19,404 volunteer shifts to increase vote-by-mail enrollment, according to a press release Monday.

Florida Republicans, while stepping up their own campaign, said they are not concerned about Democrats’ sudden increase in mail-in ballot requests.

“Florida Democrats notoriously cannibalize their own votes, and on Election Day the results are always the same: they lose,” RNC Florida Press Secretary Emma Vaughn said in a statement.

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