If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Don Tracy might not have used that phrase exactly, but it’s the sentiment the Illinois Republican Party chairman expressed this week in Springfield. Echoing remarks sent to party members in September 2022 and March 2023, Tracy conceded the state’s Democrats have been much stronger at turning out voters in recent years, including by taking advantage of opportunities to vote at early polling locations or through the mail.
Each ballot counts the same no matter how it is cast, and Tracy has wisely pointed to successes elsewhere, like Virginia. The strategy there, he noted this spring, was implying acquisition of a mail-in ballot enhances voter peace-of-mind about ballot security.
The problem Tracy will encounter in selling the message in Illinois is the prominent Republicans on record opposing his logic. Among them are U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, who in late July lost his federal lawsuit alleging Statehouse Democrats violated the Constitution when they expanded the window for counting mail-in ballots to up to two weeks after Election Day.
“It is mere conjecture that, if Congressman Bost does not spend the time and resources to confer with his staff and watch the results roll in, his risk of losing the election will increase,” wrote U.S. District Judge John Kness. “Under the letter of Illinois law, all votes must be cast by Election Day, so Congressman Bost’s electoral fate is sealed at midnight on Election Day, regardless of the resources he expends after the fact.”
Or consider Tracy himself, who even in the March message encouraging Republicans to vote by mail restated his “genuine concerns about how certain aspects of voting by mail undermine fair and honest elections.” The hill he seeks to climb is suggesting the system itself may be rigged while also pointing out an individual mailed ballot isn’t exposed to increased fraud compared to an in-person vote.
That might be a big ask, but the GOP could be on its way. Jerry Nowicki, of Capitol News Illinois, reported Tracy elicited “vote by mail” chants at his state fair appearance Thursday, telling the crowd the “party that votes for weeks and months will mathematically beat the party that only votes for one day.”
But that aspirational assessment is only true if there indeed are more Republican voters in Illinois than Democrats.
In November, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate won by roughly 514,000 votes. The margin in the attorney general race was about 445,000, for secretary of state it was around 437,000, the comptroller won by more than 655,000 and the treasurer by 439,000. The difference in the U.S. Senate campaign was more than 628,000.
Whether turnout efforts can close those gaps remains to be seen.