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Wisconsin Republicans Try To Convince Voters That Mail-In Voting Is Safe And Easy

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Trump and his supporters repeatedly claim that mail-in voting is rife with fraud. That is creating problems for local Republican officials who are focused on turning out voters. From the battleground state of Wisconsin, Maayan Silver of member station WUWM reports on how Republicans are trying to tame skepticism about the process.

MAAYAN SILVER, BYLINE: Benjamin Horvat likes to vote in person. And like a lot of Trump supporters in Wisconsin, he plans to cast his vote on Election Day this year, although he'll do it curbside.

BENJAMIN HORVAT: If it's OK to go to McDonald's and get your food during the pandemic through a drive-through, it's certainly OK to receive a piece of paper - not a big deal.

SILVER: Just 15% of Wisconsin Republicans plan to vote by mail, according to the latest poll from Marquette University. Any worries they have about mailing back a ballot are unfounded, says Rohn Bishop, a GOP county chairman in Fond du Lac, north of Milwaukee.

ROHN BISHOP: The system's pretty solid. You have to sign the ballot. You need a witness. You can track your ballot. I know a lot of people like to confuse it and say, well, look at California, where they mail ballots to everyone. Well, they do. But, like, if ballots just show up and they don't belong to anyone, they don't count them.

SILVER: As for most of the talk he sees on social media about mail-in voting...

BISHOP: I think most of it is conspiratorial hype.

SILVER: That's turned Bishop into a target from some within his party.

BISHOP: In fact, there's a radio talk show host that I've never heard of in Green Bay who spent the last 2 1/2 weeks - he seems to ridicule me a lot. And he says I'm a RINO and not a real Republican simply because I feel this way about the absentee mail-in voting program.

SILVER: Bishop notes that Democrats are putting a lot of focus on voting by mail.

BISHOP: Because we are scaring our own voters away from it, we are hurting ourselves and putting ourselves at a disadvantage, not a big disadvantage but a disadvantage. And that's one of the reasons I push back against it - because it is a legitimate way to vote.

SILVER: The state GOP is also trying to change minds. It's launched a big educational campaign to teach voters how to request a ballot on their phone. And a few months ago, Wisconsin's bipartisan elections commission voted unanimously to send mail-in ballot request forms to 2.7 million registered voters. Bob Spindell is one of the Republican commissioners.

BOB SPINDELL: There's a lot of Trump people out there that are going to vote for President Trump that we don't know about. And this is really the only way that we can assure that all those people would get an absentee ballot.

SILVER: Many Republicans say it should be illegal for political organizers and other third parties to collect absentee ballots from voters. They call the practice ballot harvesting. But Spindell says Wisconsin Republicans plan to take advantage of it.

SPINDELL: Just like the Democrats, which is legal in the state, believe it or not - and that's picking up ballots from people and taking them to the clerk's office. And we will have something like that, too.

SILVER: While many Republican voters may have suspicions about voting by mail this year, some see no problem with it. Among them is Royce Potter. He's working the polls this year. And as he has done for decades, he plans to vote again by mail.

ROYCE POTTER: Well, I drove a truck for 47 years, and it was just impractical to say I'm going to be in town on a particular day.

SILVER: Potter says he wants to make sure the election is fair. But he also says vote the way you want.

For NPR News, I'm Maayan Silver in Milwaukee.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.