Trump’s fake attacks on mail ballots arouse great concern

President Trump is stepping up his attacks on the integrity of the electoral system, raising doubts about the November vote at a time when the pandemic has changed normal voting, and according to polls, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is on the move. front with large margins.

Has not yet found an effective formula to weaken Mr. Biden or lure him into the types of cultural warfare that the President prefers, Mr. Trump is training more of his fire in the political process in a way that seems destined to give him The option of raising doubts about the legitimacy of the result.

Raising unfounded questions about electoral fraud is nothing new to Trump. He scoffed that President Barack Obama was elected with the help of dead voters, and suggested that undocumented immigrants voted en masse to claim that out-of-state voters were transported to New Hampshire in 2016.

But in recent days, Trump has focused new intensive attacks on the mail vote, as states face the challenge of holding elections amid growing cases of coronavirus in many parts of the country.

On Tuesday, Trump declared, without offering any evidence, that the 2020 elections “will be, in my opinion, the most corrupt elections in the history of our country, and we cannot allow this to happen.”

Ballot papers by mail, he said, referring to conspiracy theories, could be stolen from carriers, falsified or falsified by forces within the United States or by “foreign powers that do not want to see Trump win.”

“There is tremendous evidence of fraud every time you have mail ballots,” Trump said during an appearance in Arizona, a statement that has no basis in the experience of states offering voters the option of voting by mail.

Trump has made five dozen false claims about voting by mail since April, as officials in several states began to contemplate the need for expanded use of the option amid the pandemic.

About a third of the president’s falsehoods were general warnings about widespread mail voting fraud. Another 11 were specific claims about withheld mail carriers, stolen and forged ballots, and dead people who voted.

Figures released Wednesday from a New York Times / Siena College poll of battlefield state voters showed that 61 percent strongly support or in some way allow all voters to use mail ballots if necessary, while 37 percent strongly oppose or somewhat.

But the poll also suggested that Trump’s message reached its bottom: 88 percent of Biden’s supporters in six battlefield states strongly or to some extent support voting by mail, while 72 percent of those Trump supporters strongly or partially oppose it.

Justin Clark, the lead attorney for the Trump campaign, defended the president’s words. He said Trump was voicing legitimate concerns about how many people would get their hands on the ballots with a broad vote by mail, adding: “All of this is in the context of a broad democratic push to greatly expand vote by mail by four months. before the general election. “

Supporters of the president have already shown that they are taking his claims seriously. In Michigan, voters began burning their absentee requests that the state sent them in an act of protest. In Alabama and Kansas, state legislatures have begun to pull back from expanded mail-in-the-mail initiatives.

The president’s attacks on the vote-by-mail aroused widespread concern among current and former election officials and election experts.

“Your comments are extremely damaging to democracy, to America’s position in the world, to the confidence of voters in our elections,” said Wendy R. Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Justice Center, a non-partisan expert group. “If you are infuriating supporters in a state of anger over the legitimacy of the election, they could actually take steps to try to suppress the votes and undermine the legitimate functioning of the elections.”

Unfounded conspiracy theories, some officials said, were no different from the kind of toxic confusion that Russia and other nations have tried to inject into American politics.

“It is disinformation and disinformation, and it is no different than foreign adversaries and cyberhackers who throw information about an electoral process,” said Amber McReynolds, a former Colorado election official and current executive director of the National Institute for Home Voting, who promotes the vote. by mail.

Richard L. Hasen, an expert in electoral law and professor at the University of California, Irvine, said that unlike the president’s false claims about in-person voting, there have been sporadic problems with voting by mail, giving the Mr. Trump a grain of truth on which to build a system-wide indictment.

“The change has been voting by mail,” Hasen said of Trump’s comments, “and this is especially dangerous now because the virus is dumping everything on our elections.”

The president has directly accused Democrats five times of “manipulating” elections by mail ballot, and has stated four times that Republicans are at a disadvantage when ballots are used or not mailed.

Election officials on both sides of the aisle regretted that the president’s attacks made his job difficult.

Kim Wyman, the Republican secretary of state for Washington state, who conducts her elections almost entirely by mail, noted the difficulty of sending enough workers to safely count ballots during the pandemic or work at the few in-person polling places in the state.

In California, Alex Padilla, a Democratic secretary of state, said the president was sapping confidence in the election for his own political gain.

“What he is trying to do is absolutely clear: he seeks not only to undermine confidence in the elections, but confidence in the results of the November elections that he may not like,” Padilla said.

Hasen said Trump’s denigration of the vote-by-mail spotlights scenarios that Democrats are increasingly concerned about, such as Trump declaring victory in specific states based on Election Day counts, when totals absentee ballots could change the results days later. .

Already 34 states and Washington DC offer unexcused absentee ballots, including battlefield states like Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona, so even without additional measures introduced in response to the pandemic, voters are likely use the mail. ballots at a much higher rate than before.

Frank LaRose, the Ohio Republican secretary of state, who disagreed with Biden when he said he feared Trump was trying to “steal” the election, called for an end to such attacks.

“President Trump and Vice President Biden recently questioned the integrity of our elections without citing evidence, and both must stop it,” Mr. LaRose said in a statement.

Election fraud, in all its forms, is extremely rare, according to numerous independent studies and government reviews. While voting by mail is less secure than voting in person, fraud is still statistically small.

A database of proven voter fraud cases maintained by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, includes 206 cases involving “fraudulent absentee ballot use” from 1991 to this year. The Times could not find any news reports or instances of mail carriers held up in mail ballots. It would be a federal crime to do so.

California has been a particular focus of Mr. Trump’s anger, featuring six bogus attacks, but the battlefield states of Michigan and Nevada have also earned recognition.

He has incorrectly stated that “anyone who breathes in California receives a ballot,” including “illegal, noncitizen persons.” State officials will mail ballots to registered active voters only.

He wrongly claimed that Nevada and Michigan had “illegally” mailed ballots to voters, and threatened to withhold federal funds if they did not rescind the policy, although he did not have the authority to do so.

More recently, Trump took advantage of the idea that foreign countries could simply print ballots on their own, repeating the claim four times this week without providing evidence.

Election officials and experts have widely rejected this idea as almost impossible, noting that ballots are printed in very specific stocks and often have specific tracking systems such as barcodes.

“It is much more difficult than a cyber attack. Not only would I have to attack the printer, I’d have to get jurisdiction information and get voter registration information, ”said Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center. “I should have some way to mail the ballots from an address and get the voter’s signature. It would be an exceptionally difficult attack. “