The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump lets on that his attack on voting-by-mail is fake

President Trump on Aug. 4 reversed himself and said he would support vote-by-mail in Florida, in part because it is a “well-run state” with a GOP governor. (Video: The Washington Post)

President Trump’s attack on voting by mail — a practice in effect since the Civil War, and used exclusively by some states and widely by others with virtually no sign of fraud — has been a transparent attempt to discredit an election he looks likely to lose.

It has also been counterproductive, as Republican state and local officials have discovered. The Post reports: “President Trump’s unfounded attacks on mail balloting are discouraging his own supporters from embracing the practice, according to polls and Republican leaders across the country, prompting growing alarm that one of the central strategies of his campaign is threatening GOP prospects in November. Multiple public surveys show a growing divide between Democrats and Republicans about the security of voting by mail, with Republicans saying they are far less likely to trust it in November.”

Apparently, this has set off alarm bells among Republican operatives in Florida, where many if not most voters in the mammoth elderly population will not go to the polls in person. What if they do not vote at all? Even Trump could understand the problem, tweeting on Tuesday:

With that, Trump said the quiet part out loud: There is no significant difference between absentee voting and voting by mail. Richard L. Hasen, a law professor at UC Irvine School of Law and one of the foremost authorities on election law, tells me, “I think Florida’s system for voting by mail is secure and safe, but no more secure and safe from many other states that have widespread vote by mail.” Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah have had universal mail voting with no trace of fraud.

At his news conference on Tuesday afternoon, Trump insisted that Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, was so professional that we could have confidence in that state’s system. First, no one outside the Trump cult believes DeSantis, who presided over a surge in coronavirus cases likely stemming from his premature reopening, is competent at much of anything. Second, there is nothing special about Florida.

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“Voting by mail has proved to be very secure in Florida and other states as well,” said Daniel G. Newman, president and co-founder of MapLight, which recently put out a 50-state study of election procedures. “Florida has well-developed systems for voting by mail. In the 2018 general election, for example, 32 percent of Florida voters cast mail ballots, more than 2 million people.”

Democratic Party lawyer Marc Elias says states and Congress need to act now to ensure all votes count during the general election. These changes are overdue. (Video: The Washington Post)

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A recent open letter sent to congressional leaders underscores these points. The document, signed by Stan Veuger of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Eli Lehrer of the libertarian R Street Institute, a batch of former Republican congressmen and Michael Steele, former head of the RNC, seeks additional funding for state vote-by-mail operations. It explains that “voting by mail has already been used by tens of millions of Americans, as well as members of the military, for decades and does not favor either political party.” They explained that in 2016, “nearly a quarter of all voters in the 2016 cast their ballots by mail.” They pointed to opinion polling showing more than 70 percent of voters and nearly two-thirds of Republicans want to guarantee voting by mail.

Wendy Weiser of the progressive Brennan Center for Justice confirmed in a recent analysis that the practice is secure. “None of the five states that hold their elections primarily by mail has had any voter fraud scandals since making the change,” she wrote. “Oregon, for example, has sent out more than 100 million mail-in ballots since 2000, and documented only about a dozen cases of proven fraud. That’s 0.0000001 percent of all votes cast.” The sort of protections adopted by Florida and other states include “the mail ballot secrecy envelope, verification of signatures and personal information, bar codes, secure drop-off locations and drop boxes and post-election audits.” Coupled with “harsh penalties for anyone who attempts to commit fraud,” these devices guarantee a fair and credible vote-by-mail operation.

Trump, once again, has effectively debunked his own cynical ploy to undermine elections. What is safe in Florida is safe in other states. “There is nothing different about Florida mail balloting compared to other states. It is no more safe than elsewhere,” says Darrell M. West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “If Trump likes mail ballots in Florida, he should like them everywhere.”

In short, it is long past time for Trump to recognize there is no way to avoid voters’ likely harsh verdict.

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