But on Tuesday, he suddenly tweeted that it was safe to vote by mail in Florida. The political motivation for him to say such a thing, three months out before the election, is obvious: Florida is a swing state that he almost certainly needs to win. Republicans are worried that Trump’s rhetoric about voting by mail will turn off his supporters from voting at all.
But when Trump was asked by a reporter in Tuesday’s White House coronavirus briefing why Florida and no other state can vote by mail, according to his standards, he justified those political motivations with a nonsensical answer that’s worth breaking down to help sort out the facts from falsehoods in mail-in voting.
Trump: So Florida has got a great Republican governor, and it had a great Republican governor. Ron DeSantis, Rick Scott, two great governors. And over a long period of time, they’ve been able to get the absentee ballots done extremely professionally. Florida is different from other states.
Florida has a Republican governor, but so do 25 other states. Also, there’s no evidence that Republicans run better mail-ballot programs than Democrats. There are five states that held statewide vote-by-mail elections even before the pandemic: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah. Four have Democratic governors; one has a Republican.
Florida does indeed have a robust absentee-ballot program with a number of safeguards that vote-by-mail experts support. You don’t need to provide a reason to request a ballot by mail, and when you request one, you can track its arrival to your door and its arrival back to your county election office. Voting by mail is how Trump recently voted in Florida (after originally trying to use his Washington, D.C., address to register, The Post’s Manuel Roig-Franzia reported).
Many other states, including Democratic-run ones, have similar practices.
Trump: I mean, in Nevada, where you have the governor who said, “let’s just send out millions of ballots,” and the post office cannot be prepared. I haven’t spoken to the post office about it, but I don’t know how they could possibly be prepared.
Trump is referring to a new law in Nevada that will send a ballot in the mail to every active registered voter. That’s in contrast to other states, like Iowa and Michigan, that are sending out vote-by-mail applications to every registered voter.
Election officials and experts are split on which practice is better. Sending out applications first can help the state update its voter registration database to make sure it doesn’t send a ballot to an old address for someone, but it adds an extra step for voters that they wouldn’t otherwise have to do. (If you’re a registered voter, you don’t have to apply to go vote in person.)
On Trump’s second point, there are concerns about how the U.S. Postal Service is going to be able to handle a large influx of mail ballots this fall. But the president is conflating the actual ballots with ballot applications that get sent out much earlier.
As for the actual voting part, The Washington Post’s Michelle Ye Hee Lee reported recently, the Postal Service has already failed to deliver more than a thousand absentee ballots in Wisconsin, and voters in other states say they never got theirs. The Postal Service is warning that states are setting up unrealistic expectations for mail voting by giving tight deadlines for voters to submit their ballots. There are also concerns that a top Trump donor now running the Postal Service is cutting costs right before the election in a way that will make the job even harder.
Trump: Florida has been working on this for years, and they have a very good system of mail-in, and that would be absentee or even beyond absentee. So in the case of Florida, there aren’t too many people that would qualify.
“Even beyond absentee.” It’s not clear what Trump is referring to. Trump often tries to make a distinction between absentee voting and voting by mail. Election experts say there is no practical difference. Many states are simply ramping up their absentee-voting system for November, meaning that voters need to apply for the ballot just as if they were unable to vote in person during regular times.
Trump: They are so well-run. Florida’s a very well-run state. Low taxes, low everything. They’ve done a great job, really, a great job. And the two governors between the both of them, they’ve really got a great system of absentee ballots. And even in the case of mail-in ballots, the Postal Services are built up there.
Trump is suggesting that policies, like tax rates, affect how elections are run. Also, “the Postal Services are built up there” makes no sense. Why would the U.S. Postal Service operate better in Florida than any other state?
And as Trump praises Florida for being well run, he conveniently doesn’t mention that Florida is one of the nation’s epicenters for coronavirus after DeSantis brushed aside some scientists’ advice and aggressively reopened the state in a way that Trump supported.
Trump: You know, it takes a long time. When you look at the Carolyn Maloney election, and I’ll give you the story. I think you have to do that election over. That election is no good. You have to take a look in New York. They have thousands of ballots. They don’t know what happened to them. Is there fraud? Is there? It’s a disaster that’s only for a relatively small number of ballots. But I think they have to do the election in New York over. The Times wrote a big story about it yesterday. Front-page story. It’s a disaster. It’s a mess. And I think they have to do that election over. Nobody can know what the election result is.
Trump is referring to a primary election in New York, where about six weeks later, we still don’t know the outcome of several congressional primaries. The problem there, reported The Washington Post’s Jada Yuan, seems to be that ballots are being thrown out because of errors in how voters filled them out, rather than fake ballots being thrown in as Trump likes to insinuate will happen. There was also voter and Postal Service confusion about how to mail the ballots.
Is what’s happening in New York extreme? Or is it likely to play out all over the country in overwhelmed election offices? We don’t know for sure, but state election officials elsewhere say they are doing everything they can to make sure a delay that long doesn’t happen. And no major player, save Trump, is using that delay in New York to allege fraud.
Trump: So in the case of Florida, they’ve done a great job, and they’ve had tremendous success with it. But they’ve been doing this over many years, and they’ve made it really terrific. So for Florida, you can mail in your ballots, you don’t have to go in. Maybe a couple of other states, they’ve worked out a system, but this took years to do. This doesn’t take weeks or months. In the case of Nevada, they’re going to be voting in a matter of weeks. And you can’t do that. I can’t imagine the post office could do it. All of a sudden, they’re supposed to be dealing in millions of ballots. But Florida’s done a great job. And we have total confidence that if you mail in your ballot in Florida, it’s going to matter.
Trump is again attacking a Democratic-run state without evidence (one that doesn’t figure as prominently into his reelection strategy) while praising a Republican one (that does).
Also, voting by mail isn’t new for any state. All of them allow absentee ballots to be mailed for every election, regardless of a pandemic. The volume of voting by mail is what’s new. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate (R), who until recently was president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, warned in an interview this spring that states could get caught off guard by the numbers. If an election official is used to 5 percent of ballots cast by mail, it’s going to be a big shift to have 50 percent of them cast that way. Election officials say they are doing everything they can to make that shift in a transition that’s as smooth as possible.
Correction: Pate was president of the National Association of Secretaries of State until a few weeks ago, when his term ended.