The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Another Trump failure: His campaign against voting by mail

Martin Hershey walks into an election commission building in Chattanooga, Tenn., on July 20. (Troy Stolt/AP)

President Trump is out of sync with supermajorities of Americans on a range of issues, from reopening schools to police reform to the Confederate flag. He operates in the right-wing media bubble, absorbing the utterly untrue pablum of talk radio and Fox News’s evening lineup (Disclaimer: I am an MSNBC contributor). It should therefore surprise no one that he is wildly out of step when it comes to voting by mail.

Pew Research released a poll Monday showing nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Americans favor early voting or absentee voting for “any voter without requiring a documented reason, while a third say early and absentee voting should only be allowed with a reason.” Even 44 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaners — despite a steady diet of anti-absentee voting messages from their party’s leaders — remain in favor of no-excuse voting early or by absentee, along with 83 percent of Democrats or Democratic-leaners.

Likewise, 60 percent of voters say “changing election rules to make it easier to register and vote would not make elections any less secure, while 37% say that elections would be less secure if it were easier to register and vote. These views are little changed from 2018.” Nearly 60 percent of Republicans, however, have convinced themselves that making it easier to register and vote (without saying what the changes would be!) would make elections less secure.

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Like demanding children return to schools even in the midst of a coronavirus surge, Trump is at odds with actual voters and their state leaders, even in deep-red Alabama. reports: “Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill has extended to the general election an emergency rule to allow people to vote absentee if they don’t want to go to the polls because of COVID-19.” Merrill sounds like a paragon of common sense. As he said in a statement to the media: “Amid coronavirus concerns, it is important to remember that Alabamians who are concerned about contracting or spreading an illness have the opportunity to avoid the polls on Election Day by casting an absentee ballot.”

And the same is true in Arkansas. The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports: “All Arkansans will be able to cite concerns about covid-19 as an excuse to vote by absentee ballot in the November elections, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Thursday. … ‘They just simply have a concern, a fear of going to the polling place because of the covid-19, that’s enough of a reason,’ to vote absentee, Hutchinson said.”

The Brookings Institution surveyed all 50 states plus D.C. and found that California, Colorado, D.C., Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington will send absentee ballots to voters as all but California did before the novel coronavirus hit. Michigan now has vowed to send everyone absentee ballot applications. It is hardly alone: Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin have done the same. Other states allow no-excuse voting by mail or early voting but may not mail ballots or applications to everyone (e.g., Florida, Iowa, Minnesota).

Democratic Party strategist and lawyer Marc Elias says that flaws in ballot design are often overlooked but have huge repercussions on elections. (Video: The Washington Post)

The irony is that if absentee ballots or ballot applications are mailed en masse or even just available upon request with no excuse, Republicans may be less inclined to use them, thereby endangering themselves at the polls or forgoing voting at all. In short, all Trump seems to have accomplished is undercutting his own party’s chances of mounting a successful vote-by-mail operation. Democrats must be amazed by their good fortune.

Read more:

Jennifer Rubin: What’s holding up voting by mail?

Bill Weld: Please, Republicans, don’t join Trump’s crusade against voting-by-mail

Greg Sargent: Democrats should hammer the GOP over vote-by-mail

Paul Waldman: The mail-in ballots are coming from . . . inside the White House!

Marc A. Thiessen: Trump’s concern about mail-in ballots is completely legitimate