WASHINGTON — Even as President Donald Trump continues to make unfounded claims about the security of mail-in voting, Republican voters in at least three key battleground states are receiving flyers in the mail urging them to cast absentee ballots.
In one mailer to Arizona Republicans, the state Republican Party encourages people to vote by mail. It has a picture of Trump with a quote of his from July 30 saying, “I will be an absentee voter. We have a lot of absentee voters. It works, so we are in favor of absentee.” It includes a return address label for voters to send this application back directly to the county.
In North Carolina, Republican voters received a similar mailer also with a picture of the president and the words “Urgent notice.” It also says, “Your official absentee ballot status needs your attention” and includes a quote from July by the president that says “Absentee Ballots are fine because you have to go through a precise process to get your voting privilege.”
A similar flyer was sent to Republican voters in Pennsylvania, and the state Republican Party has detailed, step-by-step instructions on its website outlining how to vote by mail or by absentee ballot.
Both the North Carolina and the Arizona Republican parties confirmed to NBC News that they sent out the flyers and are encouraging Republicans to vote absentee.
And they, like the president, are attempting to make a distinction between mail-in voting and absentee ballots.
“North Carolina's system is substantially different than the radical all-mail election scheme implemented at the last minute, where millions of ballots are mailed out indiscriminately based on incomplete data. We, along with President Trump, oppose these hastily enacted all-mail voting schemes that ignore common-sense safeguards,” North Carolina GOP press secretary Tim Wigginton said.
In North Carolina, a voter must request an absentee ballot and has the option to mail it back or drop it off at a polling place in person.
The issue has come into focus as the president continues to slam voting by mail and call it fraudulent at the same time that the postmaster general was implementing changes to the U.S. Postal Service and warning states that the system would not be able to accommodate their ballot deadlines if they were too close to Election Day.
After a week of building political pressure, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced this week that he would halt some of the changes to mail processing.
As more states adopt vote-by-mail ballots, there is a deep partisan divide over voters' concerns about the coming election in which, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll, nearly half of the supporters of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said they will vote by mail compared to just 20 percent of Trump supporters.
And North Carolina is experiencing a massive increase in absentee ballot requests, mostly from Democrats, a major shift from previous elections.
Nearly 296,000 people have requested absentee ballots in North Carolina so far, compared to just 26,000 at this point four years ago. The party breakdown is also dramatically different. In 2016, Republicans and Democrats requested roughly the same number of absentee ballots. Right now, Democratic voters account for more than half of all requests compared to just one-fifth of Republican voters, according to the North Carolina Board of Elections.
“Voting by absentee ballot in North Carolina — which is the same thing as voting by mail — is safe, secure and reliable,” Austin Cook, the communications director of the North Carolina Democratic Party, said. “(Trump’s) disingenuous attacks are hypocritical and hollow, and as the latest absentee ballot request figures show, they aren’t tamping down the enthusiasm voters here have to replace him in November.”
Both Arizona and North Carolina are critical states in the president’s path to victory. And both also have competitive congressional races that could help determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.
But Republicans are warning that the president’s effort to undercut faith in mail-in voting could also undermine himin Arizona, where he is down in polling and will likely need a jolt of support from rural counties, which have historically voted by mail at high rates.
“President Trump continually calling into question mail-in voting won’t help our numbers in Arizona,” said Barrett Marson, a veteran GOP strategist who is behind DefendArizona, a super PAC backing Sen. Martha McSally’s current Senate bid. “It’s of utmost importance that Republicans trust the mail-in voting system, which we’ve had for a generation, and that they use it.”
Just over one-fifth of voters voted by mail in the 2016 election, a number that is expected to grow as more state are allowing the voting method and as a pandemic continues to threaten regular activities. Only six states in the upcoming election require an excuse to vote by mail or absentee.
In 2016, Trump won by 31 percent in Yavapai County, where 80 percent of voters, more than in any other county in Arizona, cast votes by mail.
Arizonans throughout the state predominantly vote by mail. In the August primary, 92.6 percent of voters in Maricopa County, which accounts for about 60 percent of the state’s electorate, voted via mail-in ballots. And during the 2018 general election, 78 percent of voters statewide used mail-in ballots.
At one time, Republicans in the state held the advantage among voters who signed up for the state’s permanent early voting list, which automatically spurs county officials to send a voter a ballot for every election. But in recent years, and still today, Democratic organizations have worked to register Democrats on this list.
The campaign of Democrat Mark Kelly, who is running for the U.S. Senate, has sent out more than 500,000 mail-in ballot applications but — unlike the Arizona GOP — included paid postage to make it easier for their voters to return to their respective county elections officials.