Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) addresses the audience during a celebration on September 10, 2014.
Photo by Matt Rainey/Getty

GOP urges supporters to vote early but fights to cut early voting


As early voting is getting underway in some states, top Republicans are urging the party faithful to cast their ballots before Election Day. And yet at the same time, the GOP is working hard to cut early voting opportunities.

Chris Christie, who chairs the Republican Governors Association, will join Ohio Gov. John Kasich for an “early vote rally” in the Buckeye State this Monday. That’s the day early voting will begin in the state — that is if Republicans don’t succeed in their bid to get it cut back.

As early voting kicked off in Iowa on Thursday, Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus joined the party’s Senate candidate, Joni Ernst and Gov. Terry Branstad for a kickoff event.

“I’m actually voting early by absentee ballot this year,” said Branstad. The governor posted a video of himself voting Thursday on his Facebook page.

Despite the apparent contradiction, the GOP’s new-found enthusiasm for getting their supporters to the polls early makes sense. In recent elections, Democrats have voted early at much higher rates than the GOP, giving them a big advantage before election day. Now Republicans are trying to at least reduce the gap.

But that effort sits uneasily with the GOP’s tenacious recent efforts to reduce early voting, as well as its frank opposition to the very concept.

“Encouraging early vote on one day while supporting laws that make it harder is nothing short of cynical.”
Pratt Wiley, DNC director of voter expansion
The day Christie and Kasich urged Republicans to vote early, the state filed court documents demanding that its cuts to early voting be re-imposed. Those cuts, passed by the GOP-controlled legislature and ordered by Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted, were blocked earlier this month by a federal judge, who ruled that they were racially discriminatory.

Democrats are pouncing. “Encouraging early vote on one day while supporting laws that make it harder is nothing short of cynical,” Pratt Wiley, the DNC’s director of voter expansion, wrote in a memo to reporters Thursday.

It’s not just Ohio. In recent years, Republicans in North Carolina, Florida, and Wisconsin have cut early voting. A state legislator in Georgia recently complained about a plan to offer Sunday voting in an Africa-American area, saying he’d “prefer more educated voters.”

Christie himself doesn’t sound much of a fan of making voting easier. Campaigning last month for Bruce Rauner, the GOP candidate for governor of Illinois, Christie portrayed the state’s adoption of same-day voter registration as a partisan Democratic ploy.

“Same-day registration, all of sudden, this year comes to Illinois,” Christie said. “Shocking. It’s shocking. I’m sure it was all based on public policy, good public policy to get same-day registration here in Illinois just this year when the governor is in the toilet and needs as much help as he can get.” 

The party as a whole is essentially on record as opposed to early voting. Earlier this year, a bipartisan presidential panel released recommendations on how to make the voting process smoother, which included expanding early voting. That was a non-starter with the Republican National Lawyers Committee, which offers as close as the GOP has to an official line on voting issues. Early voting, said the group in a response to the panel, puts “convenience over thoughtful deliberation,” so “we should not be encouraging it.”

Since then, there has been essentially no support among national Republicans for expanding early voting — despite the massive lines at the polls in some states on election day 2012.

Of course, in theory there’s nothing wrong with the GOP opposing early voting, while doing all it can to turn out its votes under the current rules. Democrats who oppose big money in politics, but nonetheless raise as much money as possible, are doing the same thing.

Still, the GOP’s double-speak on early voting puts it in a tough spot. It raises this question for starters: Should Republican voters who Christie and Priebus are urging to vote early not have the opportunity to do so?