It was a week of relentless attacks by President Donald Trump and his allies on mail-in voting for the November election, and truth took a beating at every turn. Fearing a pandemic-induced surge in such voting will work against him, Trump persisted in arguing that fraud is rampant for mail-in ballots yet quite fine and safe for absentee votes, which are also mailed.
There is no functional difference between the two, and both have extensive verification systems. He and his campaign also tried to cast a new Nevada law as allowing ballots to be “showered” across the state to any living person, regardless of age or citizenship, who would have the ability to vote after Nov. 3 without their identities ever verified.
Each of those claims is off the mark. Meanwhile, on the coronavirus, Trump painted a far rosier picture than his own health experts on when a vaccine could become available. He asserted it could be ready by Election Day. He also falsely claimed once more that kids are basically immune from the disease, prompting rebukes from both Facebook and Twitter for the misinformation. A look at the rhetoric and the reality:
TRUMP: “You look at some of the corruption having to do with universal mail-in voting. Absentee voting is OK.” Axios interview released Monday.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: “Absentee balloting is perfectly acceptable. You have to apply for an absentee ballot, signatures are checked, it’s confirmed, it is a long tradition. … But this universal mail in voting where you’re going to see literally ballots showered all across the state — it is ripe for fraud.” Fox News interview Monday.
THE FACTS: Trump and his vice president are making a false distinction. Mail-in ballots are cast in the same way as absentee mail ballots, with the same level of scrutiny such as signature verification in many states. In more than 30 states and the District of Columbia, voters have a right to “no excuse” absentee voting. That means they can use mail-in ballots for any reason, regardless a person is out of town or working. In Florida, the Legislature in 2016 voted to change the wording of such balloting from “absentee” to “vote-by-mail” to make clear a voter can cast such ballots if they wish. More broadly, voter fraud has proved exceedingly rare. The Brennan Center for Justice in 2017 ranked the risk of ballot fraud at 0.00004% to 0.0009%, based on studies of past elections. Five states relied on mail-in ballots even before the coronavirus pandemic raised concerns about voting in person. “Trump is simply wrong about mail-in balloting raising a ‘tremendous’ potential for fraud,” Richard L. Hasen, an elections expert at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, wrote recently.” While certain pockets of the country have seen their share of absentee-ballot scandals, problems are extremely rare in the five states that rely primarily on vote-by-mail, including the heavily Republican state of Utah.” In an apparent turnabout, Trump later in the week urged voters in Florida to vote by mail despite his rhetoric against the practice, arguing in a tweet that its system is “safe and secure, tried and true”. Florida is a must-win state for Trump, where Democratic requests to vote by mail have been surging higher.
STEPHEN MILLER, White House senior adviser: “Here’s a shocking thing for your audience to consider. Nobody who mails in a ballot has their identity confirmed. Nobody checks to see if they’re even a U.S. citizen. Think about that. Any “any foreign national, talk about foreign election interference, can mail in a ballot and nobody even verifies if they’re a citizen of the United States of America.” Fox News interview Monday.
THE FACTS: He’s incorrect to assert that measures aren’t in place to confirm a voter’s identity or prevent fraud with mail ballots. Ballots typically require voters to provide identifying information such as a birth date or Social Security or driver’s license number. In most states, voters also sign the back of the envelope, which is then verified with the signature on their voter registrations. Many jurisdictions use a bar code on the envelope, which is used to help states identify any duplicate ballots and also let voters know if their ballot was received. Miller ignores separate built-in safeguards for mail-in ballots. The ballots, for instance, are generally sent to registered voters, who have to provide identifying information at the time of registration, such as an address, birth date and proof of citizenship. In Miller’s hypothetical scenario of a foreign national improperly casting a vote, that ballot would be flagged and rejected for not having a signature on file or for failing to match one that is. Based on the envelope’s bar code, state voting officials also could identify and eliminate any duplicate ballots, whether they were submitted mistakenly or fraudulently.
Trump, on the threat from Russia, China and Iran of meddling in the U.S. presidential election: “The biggest risk that we have is mail-in ballots. … It’s much easier for them to forge ballots and send them in, it’s much easier for them to cheat with universal mail-in ballots.” news briefing Friday.
THE FACTS: Mail-in ballots aren’t the biggest risk for foreign interference. Trying to influence the election through mail-in ballots would probably mean paying thousands of U.S. citizens, carefully selected in pivotal states, who are willing to conspire with a foreign government and risk detection and prosecution. (AP)