But in undertaking this new scramble, Trump and his spinners are actually reminding us of the degree to which they are willing to corrupt our election on his behalf. The stakes are incredibly high: Large numbers of voters could be disenfranchised, allowing Trump to prevail.
This push comes in the form of a new Trump campaign ad from Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, and a new tweet from the president himself.
The ad from Lara Trump, which is addressed directly to Florida voters, declares:
My father-in-law, President Trump, has always supported absentee voting, with safeguards in place. We want you to know there is a difference between the Democrat-imposed vote-by-mail systems and the vote-by-mail systems you have in Florida.In Florida, you as the voter must both register and request your absentee ballot. This is very different and much more secure a process than when the Democrats mail everyone in the state a ballot, often resulting in ballots being mailed to abandoned addresses and individuals not registered to vote.
Lara Trump then urges Florida voters to obtain their absentee ballots.
The distinction that Lara Trump and the president are making here — between systems that automatically mail out ballots, and ones that require you to request one — is central to a much larger deceptive goal.
That goal is simple: to delegitimize vote-by-mail in states where they think it will hurt Trump, while legitimizing it in places where they think it will help him — such as Florida — to ensure that as many of his voters as possible utilize it if they would otherwise skip voting out of fear of the pandemic.
But the distinction is highly deceptive.
Vote-by-mail is safe
As of now, unlike Florida, most of the major swing states automatically mail out applications for absentee ballots. This is not the same as mailing out ballots (the sort of “Democrat-imposed” systems Lara Trump referenced). That’s only done in a handful of states, mostly ones that do all vote-by-mail elections. Nevada will now mail out ballots; hence the president’s rage.
What Lara Trump isn’t telling you is that both states that mail out applications for ballots and ones that mail out ballots themselves have extensive verification systems built in to safeguard against exactly the thing she is warning of.
This includes everything from only mailing out applications (or ballots) to already registered voters to all sorts of safeguards that ensure the voter’s identity, such as matching mail ballot signatures to voter registration records, as Ryan Teague Beckwith points out.
This is exactly why fraud in mail voting is very rare, even if some mailed-out ballot applications (or ballots) in states that do this actually do end up getting misdirected. (The safeguards are designed for precisely this.) When Lara Trump suggests that only systems that require you to request your ballot have “safeguards,” and “Democrat” ones don’t, that’s steaming nonsense.
But it’s actually worse than that. Because the “safeguards” that Lara Trump and the president are talking about not only do exist in other states; in some cases they are too strict, given pandemic conditions. That being the case, Trump is relying on them to help invalidate the votes of people who vote against him.
Trump’s real game plan
As I’ve reported, Trump and Republicans are relying on state laws in virtually all the swing states that, among other things, invalidate mail ballots that are postmarked before election day but arrive after it. This is what you might call a "safeguard.” Meanwhile, Trump’s handpicked chief of the U.S. Postal Service is implementing reforms that are unleashing large mail delivery delays.
Those state laws could make the disenfranchising effects of those delays worse, voting rights experts say, by resulting in untold numbers of ballots that arrive late being invalidated. Democrats are litigating in those states to get late-arriving ballots accepted. Trump and Republicans are fighting against that, screaming about fraud.
So, to be clear, they are demanding that “safeguards” like that one remain in place in those other swing states in order to invalidate votes they think will be against them — even if those votes arrive late due to postal delays amid pandemic-driven vote-by-mail demand and through no fault of voters themselves.
If Trump is narrowly ahead on election night with millions of mail ballots still uncounted, he will declare that all those outstanding votes in supposedly non-secure states are fraudulent — potentially fomenting violent civil conflict by declaring the election stolen if votes counted later tip the result against him.
At the same time, he’s already declaring that mail votes in Florida will be valid.
At the core of this ugly game, as Brian Beutler points out, is the fact that Florida has a lot of seniors. Older voters can be expected to vote promptly and thus see votes counted by Election Day even if they vote by mail. Seniors are both a key Trump demographic and are rightly terrified of the pandemic Trump did so much to exacerbate.
They might be inclined to avoid in-person voting. So Team Trump is scrambling to remind them that vote-by-mail is good when they do it.
But in the end, the new messaging from Lara Trump and the president isn’t just about getting his voters to vote by mail. It also serves the nefarious goal of legitimizing in advance mail votes in places where he thinks they will help him, while delegitimizing them in advance where he thinks they will hurt him.