That’s nonsense. Michigan is sending out applications for absentee ballots, and Nevada is proceeding with all-vote-by-mail in upcoming primary elections, to rationally address safety concerns due to the novel coronavirus.
And the threat to withhold money is an empty one, even if it is profoundly corrupt, while the claim of voter fraud is fiction. But Trump is telling his voters a story, in which he is valiantly trying to block Democrats from stealing the election and disenfranchising his supporters.
Yet this story is fundamentally ridiculous. By attacking vote-by-mail this way, Trump is potentially harming his own voters as much as anyone else.
As election law expert Rick Hasen explains, this isn’t just because rural voters are also vulnerable to the coronavirus and thus would benefit from that option. It’s also that they will be less likely to avail themselves of it — and more likely to not vote or put themselves at greater risk — if Trump keeps telling them it’s a scam:
Why would Trump voters jump through extra hoops to vote by mail if they believe, as the president is telling them, that the system is rife with fraud?
Indeed, in the recent state Supreme Court election in Wisconsin, Republicans complained that many rural voters — who tend to be older — stayed away from the polls precisely because talk of the pandemic frightened them. Wouldn’t they benefit from vote-by-mail, rather than being told it’s a plot against them?
What’s more, as Hasen also notes, rural precincts will also have more trouble getting vote-by-mail up and running, because those areas are “more likely to lack adequate resources and training” to deal with greater numbers of voters who will vote by mail due to the pandemic.
Which brings us to the other deep perversity here.
House Democrats have been pushing for numerous provisions facilitating vote-by-mail, to protect voters and poll workers alike from the coronavirus and prevent its spread. Republicans have opposed these measures, because as Trump himself says, these would supposedly hurt GOP electoral chances. That’s in keeping with the broader story Trump is telling — that these are fraudulent Democratic efforts to steal elections.
But in fact, it’s highly plausible that the very provisions House Democrats want would go a long way toward helping rural and Trump voters.
The new Heroes Act that House Democrats just passed includes a requirement that any state or jurisdiction that declares an emergency must automatically mail absentee ballots to all registered voters at least two weeks before Election Day.
The act also mandates that any ballot that’s been postmarked on or before Election Day must be accepted as on time. And it makes $3.6 billion in funding available to states and jurisdictions, largely for scaling up vote-by-mail.
Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Florida who runs the United States Election Project, tells me such changes would likely be of particular value in rural precincts. That’s because the mail operates slower in rural areas, so provisions mandating that ballots must be mailed out well in advance, and accepted if they are sent by Election Day, would be particularly beneficial.
Plus, additional federal funds will be helpful in those areas because they are under-resourced and will struggle to get vote-by-mail going. “They don’t have the resources they need to scale up, like large urban jurisdictions do,” McDonald tells me.
It’s also not even necessarily true that vote-by-mail electorally benefits Democrats, at Republicans’ expense, for both demographic and geographic reasons. As the New York Times notes, Republicans in places including Florida and Arizona have pushed for vote-by-mail because they have large retirement populations — which are disproportionately Republican.
And as California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) points out to me in a statement: “Polling locations in rural areas are too often not very accessible for voters, a challenge compounded by long distances or unreliable transportation infrastructure.”
Now add in a pandemic.
Trump is locked into the idea that anything that makes voting easier will hurt him, and therefore must be corrupt and terrible, so he’ll continue opposing Democratic efforts to facilitate it even if it means people have to put their lives at greater risk to vote. But his own voters could be among the biggest losers.