Sen. Mitt Romney defended mail-in voting Friday night in the wake of President Donald Trump's attacks on the system, calling Trump's opposition to it "a political calculation."
Romney, R-Utah, also criticized the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying "the health impact of COVID-19 on our country and our response to it was really very, very disappointing.”
Romney, who has been a vocal critic of Trump throughout his tenure as president, stopped short of naming him outright in his interview with the Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank based in Utah.
During the interview, Romney referenced evidence that mail-in voting as a system does not increase the likelihood of voter fraud, despite Trump's recent attacks on its legitimacy, for which he offers no evidence.
"In the case of voting by mail, the good news is, if there was some allegation of impropriety, you'd be able to get the ballots and look at them," Romney said.
"This is a political calculation," Romney, a former presidential candidate, said in addressing the claim that Trump doesn't want Americans to vote by mail because he thinks "polls show that people who want to vote by mail tend to vote for Vice President Biden."
Romney warned of the consequences of elected officials interfering with the voting process, and beyond.
"When politicians attack a judicial system, attack a voting system ... attack of free press, these things threaten the foundation upon which not only our own democracy but democracies around the world," he said.
Romney also alluded to interference with electronic voting as a larger potential problem in the upcoming presidential election, suggesting the federal government should provide funding to states with less effective election systems so they could conduct mail-in voting more efficiently.
"My biggest concern in regard to voting fraud has been that there would be some kind of hacking of our voting electronic systems," he said. "(That) the voting machines or tabulation system would be hacked, either by an American or by a foreign entity."
This comes on the heels of congressional Democratic leaders calling for an intelligence report on foreign interference in the 2020 election to be made public.
William Evanina, director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, issued a statement this month that stated, "foreign states will continue to use covert and overt influence measures in their attempts to sway U.S. voters’ preferences and perspectives, shift U.S. policies, increase discord in the United States, and undermine the American people’s confidence in our democratic process."
"Russia is actively, 24/7 interfering in our election. They did so in 2016, and they are doing so now," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
Trump has received widespread blowback — and accusations of voter suppression — for his targeting of the USPS.
USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll: Americans overwhelmingly support vote-by-mail push, but Republicans more wary
“Everyone depends on the USPS. Seniors for their Social Security, veterans for their prescriptions, small businesses trying to keep their doors open,” former President Barack Obama said on Twitter Friday night in response to Trump's recent moves.
“They can’t be collateral damage for an administration more concerned with suppressing the vote than suppressing a virus."
Everyone depends on the USPS. Seniors for their Social Security, veterans for their prescriptions, small businesses trying to keep their doors open. They can't be collateral damage for an administration more concerned with suppressing the vote than suppressing a virus.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) August 14, 2020
Trump admitted this month that he wants to cut funding from the USPS to squash mail-in voting.
"They want $25 billion for the post office," Trump said on the Fox Business Network on Thursday, referring to a coronavirus relief package proposed by Democrats.
"Now they need that money in order to have the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots," Trump told Fox Business, "but if they don't get those two items, that means you can't have universal mail-in voting."
The USPS has also warned that recent internal changes mean that ballots requested by their deadlines and promptly mailed back may not be delivered in time to be counted for the November election.
COVID-19 response criticized
Romney also faulted the Trump administration's response to COVID-19 during his interview with the Sutherland Institute, saying that the “proof of the pudding” is supported by the number of reported COVID-19 deaths.
“We have 5% of the world’s population but 25% of the world’s deaths due to COVID-19, and there’s no way to spin that in a positive light,” he said. “From the outset, there was a tendency on the part of the administration to dismiss COVID-19 as a threat, not to consider how serious it could be come."
Romney's assessment of the pandemic's handling so far was measured, but negative.
“Short term, I think it’s fair to say we (the United States) really have not distinguished ourselves in a positive way by how we responded to the crisis when it was upon us," he said.
On Friday, 1,222 deaths from coronavirus-related complications in the U.S. were reported. More than 164,000 people nationwide have died from COVID-19.
This was not the first time Romney has said the Trump administration mishandled the virus response. In mid-May, he criticized Trump's early testing rollout, saying the administration had “treaded water” in the early months of the pandemic and that he found "our testing record nothing to celebrate whatsoever."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mitt Romney criticizes Trump COVID-19 response, mail-in voting attacks