On the night of Nov. 8, 2022, I was at a ballroom in Eastern Pennsylvania watching election returns come in after a year of long days spent working to elect conservative candidates. I, along with just about every other Republican activist, candidate, and operative, felt confident. Then the mail-in vote came in.
It’s an experience that has become familiar to us as Republicans in the last few years — we put in countless hours of work only to have our efforts ruined by a flood of Democrat votes that were cast well before the polls even opened. It was after this most recent debacle that I got together with 2022 Congressional candidate Lisa Scheller and State Senate candidate Dean Browning (two of the latest casualties of our mail-in voting disadvantage).
Together, we resolved to ensure this would never happen again.
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From the outside, it can be hard to understand how Republicans came to have such an enormous disadvantage in the mail-in voting ballot fight. Twenty years ago, mail-in votes (then called absentee ballots) made the difference for Republicans in close races, including the 2000 presidential race in Florida. Back then, it was considered smart strategy to encourage voters to use mail-in ballots if they could — after all, what campaign wouldn’t want to give voters several weeks to cast a ballot instead of a single day?
Unfortunately, this Republican advantage has flipped in a major way. Democrats have figured out that mail-in voting ballots can help them to leverage their institutional strengths in the effort to turn out votes. This is something I’ve watched up close where I live in Allentown — Democratic campaigns work hand-in-hand with left-wing-aligned nonprofits, committees, churches, PACs, and anyone else they can find to push their voters to sign up for a mail-in ballot. Then, when October rolls around, the process repeats as they encourage those individuals to return their ballots. Democrats have built up an impressive infrastructure to churn out mail-in votes, while Republicans are stuck relying on campaigns to get voters to the polls on election day.
The results speak for themselves, but it’s important to understand the underlying statistics. After several weeks spent analyzing the data, we found that Democrats netted at least 150,000 votes from low-propensity voters (people who don’t typically vote) and newly-registered voters using mail-in voting ballots.
This shouldn’t surprise us. When you give low-prop voters several months to cast their ballot, you increase the chance that they vote. Democrats have taken advantage of this and then some, doing everything short of breaking down the doors of their low-prop voters and making them sign up for a mail-in ballot. These extra votes alone can account for two losses in Pennsylvania congressional races, the loss of the state house, and several state senate races.
If we don’t get this right, we risk another electoral wipeout that will further set back Pennsylvania and potentially the country.
For their part, Republicans used to console themselves that our voters were much more likely to turn out so we didn’t need to use mail-in voting ballots as much. There’s some truth to this, but it’s worth remembering that Republicans are quickly becoming a much more working-class party than we were a decade ago. When our voters are determining whether to vote, they may have to contend with extra shifts at work, childcare issues, family issues, or any other daily occurrence that can stop us from completing our to-do lists. The reality is, we can’t rely on elderly retirees turning out at 7 a.m. to win elections for us; we have to match the aggressive turnout strategy that Democrats employ.
That’s why we recently formed Win Again PAC. From now on, we’ll be devoting ourselves to ending the Democrats’ mail-in voting monopoly in Pennsylvania by building the mail-in ballot infrastructure Republicans desperately need.
We’ll be traveling the state in order to train committees, campaigns, and grassroots organizations on the ins and outs of mail-in voting and how to persuade our voters to use it; we’ll be working to get our materials into the hands of any Republican candidate or volunteer who wants them; and we’ll work to provide the advertising air support needed to get our message to every last Pennsylvania Republican.
The stakes could hardly be higher, and time is short. In 2024, Pennsylvania will be in a position to decide control of the House, Senate, and Presidency. If we don’t get this right, we risk another electoral wipeout that will further set back Pennsylvania and potentially the country. That’s why we’re starting now, and we’ll be using the 2023 election cycle to refine our tactics and build out the infrastructure we’ll need in order to be successful in the years to come.
We won’t be able to accomplish this on our own, however. Democrats have found success by focusing all the tools in their political arsenal on driving early/mail-in voting turnout. Our effort will rely on committees, PACs, candidates, grassroots organizations, and donors working together and committing themselves to solving this problem and revolutionizing Republican campaigns. If not, Republicans will once again find themselves at another series of miserable “victory” parties in the coming elections.
Arnaud Armstrong is a Pennsylvania-based political operative and a co-founder of Win Again PAC. Learn more at www.winagain.org.