RNC ‘Ballot Harvest’ Initiative Keeps Making Waves

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A new program from the Republican National Committee to encourage early voting and mailed ballots has caused extensive infighting after the party spent years elevating right wing attacks and conspiracy theories focused on similar initiatives from Democrats. The recent drama has included anger from activists and concern from conservative pundits who saw President Trump express support for the idea, only to engage in alleged “backtracking” mere months later. 

RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel launched the “Bank Your Vote” initiative on Jun. 7. The official website described it as a plan to have supporters “vote by mail or early in-person, and ballot harvest where permitted.” Of course, mail-in voting, early voting, and so-called “ballot harvesting,” a term for having teams collect completed mail or absentee ballots from voters, have all been the target of criticisms and conspiracy theories from Trump, McDaniel, and other Republicans for years. The about face embrace of these voting techniques from the RNC – which did not respond to a request for comment on this story – comes as experts increasingly believe right-wing conspiracy rhetoric about voting has actually suppressed turnout among the Republican base. 

Even though there are clear reasons for the GOP to change its course, the new initiative has angered some right wing activists who remain devoted to the Big Lie and distrustful of election systems. Notably, My Pillow pitchman Mike Lindell, the prominent election conspiracist who ran an unsuccessful campaign to usurp McDaniel as RNC chair last year, told TPM the initiative was “the worst plan … in history” and suggested it might be part of a “grand scheme” to undermine Trump. 

Trump was asked about the program in an interview on his former White House deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka’s talk show “America First” on June 22. Gorka brought up the initiative after Trump baselessly accused Democrats of “rigging and stealing” elections. 

“Are you satisfied … that the GOP, the RNC … are doing enough to secure the election and to ballot harvest where possible?” Gorka asked. 

Trump went off on a lengthy diatribe where he praised the RNC but also suggested the plan would not be enough to match Democrats, who, in a grand and evidence-free conspiratorial flourish, he accused of essentially creating fake votes out of thin air.  

“I can tell you they’re working very hard,” Trump said of Republican Party officials, before adding, “But it’s not just ballot harvesting because, you know, they say, ‘Oh well, we’ll get as many votes as them and all that.’ They create their own ballots …  they cheat. … These people are horrible disgusting cheaters.” 

Trump continued by declaring he needed no help from the Republican Party to win.

“They’re all working very hard,” Trump said, “I even tell people, you don’t have to help me at all. I have all the votes we need. We have so many votes we have a landslide.”  

Trump concluded by reiterating his concerns about the mail-in and early voting methods the RNC is trying to promote. 

“It used to be called election day, now it’s election period,” said Trump. “They last forever. They used to last one day and you counted them up … you won or you lost, and nobody had complaints, but today, it’s a horrible system that we have. It’s a corrupt system.”

Trump’s waffling on the RNC’s efforts to promote new voting techniques prompted concern from some conservative pundits including Townhall Senior Editor Matt Vespa who described it as “backtracking on ballot harvesting … that could prove fatal” for the GOP in a column published on Wednesday. Vespa pointed to the Gorka interview and expressed confusion at Trump’s insistence he has a “landslide” locked up and — even as he suggested “ballot harvesting” could be flawed — argued Republicans should use every legal tool that Democrats also have at their disposal. 

“No, I don’t trust that Trump has the votes we need to win; it’s too early. He knows he has the votes—what the hell is he talking about?” Vespa asked, adding, “It sucks, but we all need to take a Prednisone for this political inflammation, get jacked up, and try to beat the Democrats at their own game on this stuff. Not wanting to do something legal because we were either against it before or think it’s dirty electioneering is why our side loses a lot.”

TPM reached out to the Trump campaign in light of Vespa’s column and asked whether the former president is opposed to the RNC initiative. Campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung pointed to a speech Trump delivered in March where he said Republicans would need to adopt new voting techniques in the name of “beating the Democrats at their own game.”

For his part, Gorka, the right wing broadcaster who questioned Trump about “ballot harvesting” didn’t weigh in about whether he approves of the RNC plan. TPM reached out to Gorka to ascertain his position on the initiative. Gorka didn’t say whether or not he supports the plan, but he certainly doesn’t approve of TPM. He responded to the message with a series of insults. 

“Don’t be such a political whore. I have no ide [sic] who you really are but TPM is a propaganda outfit for the Left who hate America,” Gorka wrote in an email. “Here’s your quote: ‘Talking Points Memo are whores for the DNC.’”

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