As she’s undertaken a large-scale, multimillion-dollar effort to push back on Democratic attempts to expand vote-by-mail access before the election, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has been clear about one thing: She’s not conceptually opposed to absentee voting.
In press calls, McDaniel has said she’s comfortable with states sending out applications for ballots that voters can send in by mail because they have a proper reason for not being able to show up in person. What she’s opposed to is states sending out the ballots themselves, especially without safeguards in place to determine who is getting them. That’s been true of the lawsuits that the RNC has spearheaded recently, including one directed at California, which sent out mail-in ballots to all registered voters in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
What McDaniel has left unsaid, and what may be the reason for how specific her position has been, is that she herself has voted absentee—repeatedly. Michigan voting records obtained by The Daily Beast show that she did so in 2016, 2017, 2018 and for the presidential primary in 2020. Public records show that McDaniel is on Michigan’s “permanent absentee voter list,” meaning that she is “sent an application for every election.”
As reporters have unearthed more examples of prominent Trump aides who have taken advantage of absentee voting in recent years, McDaniel’s position appears to have grown more nuanced. In an early April column for Fox News, she declared flatly, “mail-in voting increases the opportunity for fraud.”
“Voting by mail led to multiple elections where no one can say with confidence which candidate was the deserved winner,” she wrote.
The RNC’s stated public position these days is more subtle—and less at odds with McDaniel’s personal voting history.
“Chairwoman McDaniel has been completely consistent.We do not oppose lawful absentee voting,” said RNC spokesman Michael Ahrens. “What we oppose are Democrats’ demands to automatically mail millions of ballots to voters while simultaneously suing to eliminate safeguards like ballot signature verification and state bans on ballot harvesting.”
But it nonetheless complicates President Donald Trump’s years-long campaign to cast doubt about the legitimacy of systems that allow for voting by mail—if, for no other reason, than it represents yet another Trumpworld luminary who votes in that fashion. And it’s at odds with warnings from others on the right that mail-in ballots are ripe for corruption—a warning at odds with the data.
Trump himself has voted absentee and defended it on grounds that he’s busy being president. But he has also discussed mail-in ballots as inherently fraudulent, disadvantageous to Republicans, and a measure for rigging elections. He has gone so far as to warn that kids would raid mailboxes to take out ballots and recast them for their preferred candidates.
“You don’t think they rip them out of mailboxes?” he said on Thursday.
His top adviser, Kellyanne Conway, has also voted absentee. And, like Trump, she’s defended the ballots she’s cast in New Jersey on grounds that she’s busy working in D.C. But this week, she also framed the act of in-person voting as a sacred responsibility that was worthy of the time and sacrifice.
“People very proudly show up and go to the polls,” Conway said on the White House lawn. “They really are… I mean they wait in line at Georgetown Cupcake for an hour to get a cupcake. So I think they can probably wait in line to do something as consequential and critical and constitutionally significant as cast their ballot.”
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who has also been highly critical of vote-by-mail, did it herself 11 times over the past 10 years, according to a recent Tampa Bay Times report. She defended herself by saying she was forced to vote absentee because of her work in Washington, though Florida’s system allows for no-excuse vote by mail.
McDaniel’s position has been that she is supportive of the absentee ballot process so long as it is done lawfully and with safeguards. And after penning that Fox News column warning of the consequences of mail-in voting, her position became more clarified
“I don’t mind people being sent absentee ballot request forms. That’s ok. Give them the opportunity to vote by mail. We are not fighting those,” she said at a virtual forum hosted by Georgetown University. “I struggle with just sending out ballots, especially in states that haven’t taken the time to audit their voter roll.”