Trump’s war on voting by mail lacks Republican allies

After Trump tweeted Monday morning that mail ballots would make 2020 the “MOST DIFFERENTIAL election in our nation’s history,” CNN spoke to numerous Republican senators, including members of the Republican leadership team. None of them said they agreed with the President’s views on the vote by mail, and several said they supported the expansions as a way to deal with the coronavirus.

“I think it’s fine,” Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska, a member of the Senate Republican Party leadership team, said of the expansion of mail-order voting in her state. “It worked well in Nebraska. We had a large turnout in the primaries in May. There were no problems that you have heard from our secretary of state. It worked well.”

Fischer joined other Republican senators on Monday who said they did not believe that more mail ballots, which has expanded in the states in recent years and has accelerated since the coronavirus outbreak began, would unfairly manipulate elections.

The tweets on Monday were the latest attack Trump made against the vote by mail, which he called “stupidity” and falsely claimed that it leads to massive electoral fraud, even when public health experts from his own administration encourage voting by mail . The President has asserted without evidence that there are systematic cheating with mail ballots and has made false accusations against states that are expanding absence and mail options.
Last month, for example, Trump incorrectly accused California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom of illegally sending ballots to all residents of the state, including undocumented immigrants. But Newsom’s executive order, and a subsequent state law passed to enforce it, means that only registered voters receive ballots in the mail.

On Monday, Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri told CNN that he supports states that expand voting by mail. As chair of the Senate Rules Committee, Blunt helps oversee the elections and answered “no” when asked if he thought the President should say that the upcoming 2020 elections could be rigged. Blunt added that states that “drastically change” their systems to include more mail ballots present a “challenge.”

Blunt added: “I am” when asked if he supports states that expand voting by mail.

Republican Texas Senator John Cornyn said the process for absentee ballot-by-mail voting has worked well in his state, although he said expanded postal voting “is not a panacea.”

“I am sure that if there is someone who wants to vote in Texas, they can do it,” Cornyn said.

When asked if he shares Trump’s view of a “fraudulent election,” Cornyn said, “I think they know that any method known to humanity is capable of corruption.”

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican from West Virginia and a member of the Republican Senate leadership, said she is confident about voting by mail, which is how half of the ballots were cast in the West Virginia primary election in early this month. Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, where every registered voter receives a ballot in the mail, said the process in her state “works very well.”

Speaking to CNN’s John King on Monday, Senator John Barrasso criticized Trump’s tweets on the matter, but later said voting by mail works in his state of Wyoming. Barrasso said there has been “evidence of electoral fraud in the past and we want to make sure that everything is on the rise.”

However, there is no evidence that any fraud was widespread or rampant in the US election.

It’s not just Capitol Hill Republicans. In a statement emailed to CNN, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, said that both Trump and Democrat Joe Biden “need to stop” questioning the integrity of the election.

(Biden said earlier this month that his “biggest fear” was that Trump would try to “steal the elections,” although he has not claimed that the elections are “manipulated” as the president did.)

“In Ohio we hold ourselves to the highest standards when it comes to the integrity of elections,” said LaRose. “Hundreds of local officials from both parties work every day to ensure that elections are honest and safe in all of our 88 counties.”

The most blatant recent example of voter fraud occurred in another decisive state, North Carolina, when in 2018 a Republican agent working for the winning House of Representatives candidate was charged and then charged with illegally collecting ballots in absentia. The election was investigated and rejected, prompting a special election in 2019.

Pat Gannon, a spokesperson for the bipartisan electoral board in North Carolina, told CNN that there has been an increase in interest in voting by mail absentee this year and that there are safeguards to ensure fairness. The state legislature also passed tougher penalties for collecting illegal ballots. Gannon said there are still concerns about misinformation about the legitimacy of voting by mail.

“It can certainly undermine confidence in the electoral process and, in particular, absentee or mail voting. This is how many voters will vote this year,” Gannon said. “We ask voters in North Carolina to obtain voting information from reliable state and local sources.”

Trump has also openly argued that expanding the vote by mail will help Democrats defeat Republicans, an idea that animates his most recent tweets that the process amounts to manipulation of the election.

However, it is not clear that expanding mail ballots benefits one party over the other. Numerous independent studies have confirmed that neither party automatically sees a significant benefit when voting by mail is expanded. Older white voters, who were more likely to vote for Trump in 2016 and continue to favor the president in 2020, also represent a large portion of those who vote absentee.

In particular, Trump himself has voted absentee through a mail ballot in at least two elections since he became president.

And there is already anecdotal evidence that Trump’s campaign against mail voting is putting his reelection bid at a disadvantage. In Michigan, a virtual state the president must win by a few thousand votes in 2016, Trump supporters burned his absentee ballot requests, which were sent to all registered voters there, in protest.

A veteran Republican strategist in a decisive state, who declined to speak on the record for fear of retaliation from the state party president, said the president’s tweets do not suggest a sound political strategy.

“I think it’s just a matter of establishing a premise for complaining about a variety of things, the head of non-existent electoral fraud among them,” said the strategist. “I think it’s probably damaging overall, and it makes no strategic sense.”

Trump, who has been following Biden in both national and state polls, has tried to discredit previous elections along the same lines. In October 2016, when he appeared to be losing to then-Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton, Trump tweeted that “of course large-scale electoral fraud is taking place.” That same month, he also said at a Wisconsin rally that he was competing in a “fraudulent election.”
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Trump would continue to lose the popular vote, but would win the presidency by winning enough votes in the Electoral College, but not before many elected Republicans denounced his election characterization of the election as “manipulated.”

Almost four years later, Republican Party officials still face those kinds of questions about Trump’s rhetoric. When asked Monday if he agreed with Trump that the elections could be rigged, Senator Fischer said, “Well, you should ask the president why he said that. I’m telling you in Nebraska that it worked well and that our secretary State has said it worked well. “

CNN’s Ted Barrett contributed to this story.