On June 15, I wrote about President Trump’s self-defeating war on vote-by-mail, using Florida as my prime example. As I noted, the Republican Party has traditionally enjoyed a big advantage in the Sunshine State among voters who use the mail option for casting their ballots, and this helped offset the Democrats’ edge among those who use early voting centers. This pattern held true even in 2016 when the Democrats put a major effort into closing the vote-by-mail gap.
According to the Florida Department of State’s Division of Elections, 1,080,808 Republicans cast their votes by mail compared to 1,053,254 Democrats– a net advantage of 27,554. That was important because 1,139,103 Democrats utilized the early voting stations while only 1,026,600 Republicans did so, giving Hillary Clinton a 112,503 vote edge. This meant that Clinton had about an 85,000 vote advantage when Election Day started, but it would have been over 100,000 if not for vote-by-mail. Trump ultimately won Florida by about 113,000 votes, meaning that he got about 200,000 more in-person votes on Election Day.
As you can see, Trump’s victory wasn’t dependent on his vote-by-mail advantage, but it definitely gave him a much needed cushion.
Florida is the largest of the swing states and presidential elections have been consistently close there since 2000, when the outcome was too close to decide without court intervention. This is why the battle over fundamentals, the blocking and tackling of the campaigns, is probably more critical in Florida than anywhere else. Hillary Clinton did a good job in 2016 building a substantial early lead, but it wasn’t quite enough.
This time around, it’s too early to give the Biden campaign a report card. There are four months of work left to do, and they’re probably still setting up their early voting teams. But, because Trump has been waging a political jihad against voting by mail, he’s already sabotaged one of the GOP’s key advantages:
Democrats have opened up a 302,000-voter advantage over Republicans in vote-by-mail enrollment, an edge that could pay big dividends in President Donald Trump’s newly adopted must-win state.
Five months before Election Day, more than 1.46 million Democrats have signed up to vote by mail compared to 1.16 million Republicans, according to state Division of Election data released Friday. By comparison, in 2016, Democrats held an advantage of about 8,800 in vote-by-mail enrollment.
As noted above, ultimately the GOP got 27,554 more of their registered voters to use mail ballots in 2016. They accomplished this despite being slightly behind in applications at this point in the campaign. But an 8,800 voter disadvantage in June is quite different from a 302,000 voter disadvantage. It will take a herculean effort by Trump’s ground team to make up this deficit, and it’s probably not possible unless the president quickly and emphatically changes his opposition to vote-by-mail.
In my earlier piece, I suggested that Trump’s rhetoric on mail voting might have less impact in Florida than in states like Pennsylvania in Michigan because Floridians have been using the option for years and are used to it. But I also said, that his fear mongering about the practice was “like a mental contagion that is ripping through conservative circles” and that “Trump shouldn’t think his numbers won’t suffer in Florida to some degree, as well as in every state where mail is an option.”
The evidence on that is already in, thanks to the latest release from the Florida Department of State’s Division of Elections.
The New York Times/Siena College survey released on Wednesday has Biden leading nationally by a commanding 50-36 advantage. Given the present state of the campaign, Trump can hardly afford to commit massive errors that will impact early voting. But that is exactly what he has done.