ATLANTA — Republican activists who believe the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump have crafted a plan that, in their telling, will thwart cheating in this year’s midterm elections.
The strategy: Vote in person on Election Day or — for voters who receive a mailed ballot — hold onto it and hand it in at a polling place or election office on Nov. 8.
The plan is based on theories that fraudsters would be able to manipulate voting systems to rig results for Democrats once they have seen how many Republican votes have been returned early.
The calls to hold onto ballots until the last minute have grown louder in recent weeks, according to a review of social media accounts by The Associated Press.
“It’s a lot easier to catch any fraud,” MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who has promoted the last-minute voting strategy on podcasts, told the AP in a recent interview. Lindell, through various events, has sought to prove that voting machines were manipulated to favor Biden in 2020.
Trump also has weighed in, saying at a recent rally that voting on Election Day was best because “it’s much harder for them to cheat that way.”
Discouraging early voting and encouraging voters to hold onto their mailed ballots until Election Day runs counter to efforts by most campaigns. Republican and Democratic candidates alike typically want to have as many ballots in hand as possible heading into Election Day so they can focus their efforts on getting stragglers to the polls and persuading undecided voters.
It’s unclear whether the messaging for Republicans to hold onto their mailed ballots is having an effect. In two politically important states, the return rate for mailed ballots is slower than in previous elections — although it also could mean voters there remain undecided.
In Georgia, about 23% of mailed ballots have been returned with just over two weeks before Election Day compared to about 35% at about the same time in 2020 and almost 37% in 2018. As of Oct. 19 in Wisconsin, 45% of mailed ballots had been returned compared to 56% in at the same point in 2020 and 2018.
Some Democrats also have advocated submitting ballots at the last minute — but based more on a political strategy than claims of fraud.
Pam Keith, an attorney, Democratic activist and former congressional candidate in Florida, said she thinks the predictability that Democrats will vote by mail gives Republicans an early hint at turnout levels. That’s why she is advocating for a surge of ballots at the last minute, catching Republicans off guard.
“By voting early, we are showing our hand,” Keith said. “We show what our turnout number is going to be. And if they know that the overwhelming majority of vote-by-mail ballots are in, then they know what they need to do to win.”
Keith’s advice strayed from that of many Democratic candidates, who have encouraged their supporters to vote early and by mail.