February 9, 2023
I loved basketball when I was a kid. I shot hoops at a backboard & rim mounted on my parents' garage all the time. I was a member of my elementary school team, junior high team, freshman team, and then the junior varsity team at Northern Lebanon High School as a sophomore.
I got cut from the varsity team in my junior year because truth be told, although I loved the game I just wasn't very good at basketball. I was a scrub. A benchwarmer. Ask my new colleague in the House of Representatives, Rep. John Schlegel. He can attest to my playing skills (or lack thereof), as he was the head coach of my freshman team.
I was a short guy, so I possessed no advantage under the basket or anywhere else in the paint. My ball handling skills were rudimentary at best, so playing point guard was not really in the cards either.
The vast majority of my time during games was spent on the sidelines. The rare occasion when I did actually get into a game was when we were already getting blown out, or that one time the JV coach got so upset with our starters during one game that he sat them on the bench for the entirety of the next game as punishment.
I was somewhat passable in two skills on the court, though: planting my feet on defense to draw an offensive foul, and shooting from way outside. Unfortunately for me, shooting from way outside was frowned on back then because there was no such thing as a 3-point shot. Every basket counted as two points, and a layup or inside shot was preferred to tossing one up from anywhere greater than 15 feet from the hoop.
Tall guys had the advantage, unless you were a smaller guy who possessed some quality moves. I was a smaller guy who possessed no discernible quality moves.
The 3-Pointer Changed the Game
The NBA adopted the 3-point line in 1979, the year I was cut from the varsity team. The NCAA fully adopted it in 1986, and high school basketball quickly followed suit.
The 3-point shot was a game changer. Outside shooters were fostered, and teams altered their offensive strategies accordingly. If the 3-pointer existed when I was playing, perhaps I could have made the varsity squad, as I was the last kid to get cut.
While the 3-point shot is an integral part of the game now, imagine yourself as a coach or player back when it first arrived on the scene. Would you have taken advantage of it? Of course you would have, as it provides an opportunity to increase your point total by 50 percent every time your team goes down the court!
Refusing to take advantage of the 3-point shot would be ludicrous, and your team would be at a distinct disadvantage. It would be akin to stubbornly relying on horses and cavalry while fighting a war, when Abrams tanks are readily available. You gotta play to win, as they say.
The Political 3-Point Line
In Pennsylvania, no-excuse mail-in voting is the equivalent of the 3-point shot in its early days. Unfortunately, Republicans have continued playing the game as if this new rule doesn't exist - and it shows. We are getting trounced by the Democrats in mail-in voting. In 2022, they racked up their statewide winning margins in the weeks before Election Day via mail-in ballots, before many Republicans even showed up at the polls.
I'll pause right here to acknowledge that many of you do not like no-excuse mail-in voting. I'm not pleased with the way it turned out either, and I'm the prime sponsor of the only bill in the House to get rid of it.
But no matter how much we don't like it or desire to get rid of it, nothing changes the fact that mail-in voting is legal. It will take time to get rid of it, if that's our goal. But as long as it is legal, Republicans must take advantage of it, or we will suffer the same fate as NBA teams who failed to quickly adopt a new strategy when the 3-point shot became part of the rules: we will continue to lose important elections.
We can't govern (including passing any legislation required to get rid of mail-in voting) unless we first win elections. So even those Republicans adamantly opposed to mail-in voting need to at least temporally embrace it to help us win elections, so we can then govern. The idea is not to convince in-person voters to vote by mail, but to cultivate mail-in voting among those Republican voters who don't regularly show up on Election Day.
It should be noted that before no-excuse mail-in voting came to Pennsylvania, Republicans regularly dominated the absentee ballot game, and employed a distinct strategy for success. Winning the mail-in game is not an entirely new or impossible task, although it is a larger task.
A Turning Point?
On January 31, Republican Lynda Schlegel Culver was elected to the state Senate in a special election. Culver won the mail-in vote in two of the five counties in that Senate district. In the other three, she significantly reduced the mail-in margins Democrats earned during previous elections.
This is especially of note because in accordance with PA election law, those who signed up to vote by mail on an annual basis for 2022 were automatically sent a mail-in ballot for the special election, because it occurred during the first six weeks of the calendar year. As a result, over 10,000 ballots were automatically delivered to Democrat voters, while only around 5,000 were sent to Republicans.
Also of note is that by all accounts, efforts to get out the Republican mail-in vote was smoothly coordinated between the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, five separate Republican county committees, and the Culver campaign. This cooperation also led to Republicans outperforming Democrats in new mail-in applications by an 8:1 ratio.
Further, Culver's Senate district is situated in the heart of blood-red central Pennsylvania, where many Republicans are vehemently opposed to mail-in voting.
However, it's clear that some Republican voters like voting at home, and will vote from home if given the opportunity. It's also clear that a cooperative effort by Republican candidates and committees can result in success even when there is much Republican public sentiment against mail-in voting.
Shooting for Victory
Republicans can no longer sit on the sidelines and complain about the rules being changed. We must get in the game, and play by the rules in place. There are critical statewide appellate court races on the ballot in 2023, and in 2024 we'll be electing another President, a US Senator, members of Congress, as well as members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
If we wish to win elections in Pennsylvania in the future, we must merge our past success with absentee ballots with the recent success in the Culver race, foster coordination between the state and county Republican committees and our candidates, and develop bridges of cooperation with grassroots organizations to take full advantage of the political 3-point shot.
Republicans have succeeded at this in other states (ahem, Florida). There is no reason we can't have success here in Pennsylvania. We need to do it, and we need to do it yesterday. If we fail to even attempt taking a 3-point shot, we so do at our own peril.
I am actively working with other Republicans across Pennsylvania to help develop winning statewide and local strategies for mail-in voting. Success will require time, effort, manpower, coordination, and financial backing. Please make a contribution today so I can help Republicans put a few 3-pointers up on the scoreboard!