Trump’s silence on Watkins, though, is probably a function of his political party. When a consultant to a Republican candidate in North Carolina was accused of illegally collecting and completing absentee ballots in a congressional race in that state, Trump was similarly mum until asked about it by reporters. (His response lumped the incident in with his obviously false claims about fraud in California and Florida to smear his political opponents.)
On Thursday, a reporter asked White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany for Trump’s reaction to the Watkins indictment.
“That’s the first I’m hearing of that,” McEnany replied. “I haven’t spoken to the president of it.”
As she was speaking, she flipped through a binder on her lectern. McEnany comes to the briefings prepared with talking points for an array of subjects; when she landed on the page in her notes dedicated to alleged voter fraud, she pivoted from the question at hand to attempting to bolster Trump’s broader argument about mail-in ballots.
Her efforts to do so were embarrassingly bad.
“He does have very real concerns about voter fraud, and he’s mentioned several of those,” McEnany said. “And there’s yet more information that there is rampant voter fraud when you have mass mail-in voting.”
What’s that information? She offered three examples.
“In 2016, as the president has noted, about 1 percent of absentee ballots nationwide were thrown out, and it could be much higher this year as many people vote by mail for the first time,” she said. “That’s one of the flaws with mass mail-in voting.”
So … how’s that a flaw? If the argument is that 1 in 100 ballots are thrown out as suspect or invalid, that seems as though the system is working as it should. Don’t we want ballots that don’t pass the smell test to be rejected? Is it better if no ballots are rejected?
It’s certainly true that reviewing absentee or mail-in ballots is more time-intensive than evaluating voters in real time at polling places. But those reviews, which include validating signatures and establishing the validity of the ballot itself, are one way in which the possibility of fraud is reduced. Voters casting legitimate votes often have their ballots rejected because of questions about signatures or other issues, which is a problem in its own way. But having a much higher rate of rejected ballots is a sign that scrutiny is being applied more broadly.
Describing that review as a flaw is just lazy, an attempt to unfairly conflate “ballot rejected” with “ballot was fraudulent” instead of “ballot didn’t meet necessary standards.” But, again, even if it were the case that all of those ballots were fraudulent, which they aren’t, you want them thrown out, right?
“But beyond that,” McEnany continued, “we’ve seen a number of reports out of New Jersey that found a U.S. Postal Service vehicle that may have been carrying mail-in ballots that were — that was caught on fire, this truck. This was recent.”
(Jim Halpert turns to the camera.)
Okay, so now we are alleging that, what? Someone was … trying to cover up fraud by setting fire to a mail truck? That this theoretical person cast fraudulent ballots and then … had a change of heart? Or perhaps he or she was so worried about committing a felony that the person decided it was worth the risk of a federal arson charge? Again, this is just McEnany merging a few “sounds like a crime” things together and then pointing at it with her thumb.
Here’s a theory for why that mail truck caught fire: Those mail trucks catch fire all the time. A recent report from Vice found that hundreds had caught fire in recent years, thanks to budget constraints that limit the ability to sufficiently maintain or replace old trucks. McEnany’s insinuation is like claiming that the explosion of the Hindenburg demonstrates that a passenger on the zeppelin was trying to immigrate illegally.
A news report about the fire mentions that the truck may have been carrying ballots only in the context of reporting that replacement ballots were being issued. How this fits into McEnany’s fraud-is-rampant calculus isn’t clear.
“Also, in the New Jersey Star-Ledger on June 22nd — this was very striking,” McEnany went on, getting to the third of her three examples. “Five hundred to 700 Republicans received ballots with all-Democrat candidates. They were erroneous mail-in ballots that had been voided and then reissued,” she said. “And the slate of candidates on these ballots was all Democrat, from Joe Biden down to dogcatcher. And these were supposed to be Republican ballots.”
What happened? A group of Republican primary voters were sent ballots that were clearly printed as though being sent to Democratic primary voters. So the company that printed the ballots sent them new ones at no cost to the state, and that was that.
This little anecdote is of a variety common to allegations that fraud is rampant, a genre I like to call “but what about the hammers?” The idea is this: You can use a hammer to break into a house, but that doesn’t mean that you do. Your possessing a hammer does not mean that you are probably a burglar. Just because you have a tool that could be used to do something bad doesn’t mean that you have or will or plan to. It’s just a hammer.
In this case, the existence of a misprinted ballot that would theoretically allow a Republican to cast votes in the Democratic primary — heaven forfend! — introduces several additional levels at which McEnany’s fraud claims fall apart. The first is that this mail-in ballot would need to be validated by the county and presumably would be detected as erroneous quite quickly. The second is that a general-election ballot would have candidates from both parties anyway, meaning that this anecdote offers no instructive value about November except “sometimes there are printer errors.” Which is not a problem specific to mail-in ballots.
“You can’t have printer errors,” a Republican mayor in New Jersey told the Star-Ledger. But, the paper reported, “she does not suspect fraud.”
Well, Kayleigh McEnany does, because her job is to validate Trump’s evidence-less allegations using whatever random anecdotes she has at her disposal.
But those were all of the anecdotes she had on Thursday.
“Those are three recent examples,” McEnany concluded. “And there are many more.”
When your standard for “example of voter fraud” includes “normal vetting of ballots,” “random truck fires” and “printer errors,” there’s little question that there are many more which can be produced.
Having scores of terrible or divergent examples, however, doesn’t actually prove your case.