President Donald Trump on Wednesday directed Republicans to “fight very hard” against efforts to expand mail-in voting amid the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting that such a shift in ballot-casting practices would yield unfavorable electoral results for the GOP.
“Republicans should fight very hard when it comes to statewide mail-in voting. Democrats are clamoring for it,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Tremendous potential for voter fraud, and for whatever reason, doesn’t work out well for Republicans.”
The president’s social media post comes amid escalating anxiety among national Democrats, election officials and voting rights activists regarding the coronavirus’ effects on upcoming state primaries and November’s general election.
In-person voting has been complicated by the deadly outbreak, with Americans suddenly endangered at polling places by the rapid spread of a highly infectious disease, and forced to defy federal guidelines and local stay-at-home orders in order to cast ballots.
Although more than a dozen states have delayed their primary contests as a result of the public health crisis, Wisconsin controversially forged ahead with its election Tuesday after the state Supreme Court blocked Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ last-minute executive order postponing in-person voting.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority similarly blocked a court order Monday that extended the period to return absentee ballots in Wisconsin’s primary.
The president fiercely criticized mail-in voting as “horrible” and “corrupt” during the White House coronavirus task force’s daily news conference Tuesday, but also conceded that he voted by mail in Florida’s primary last month.
Trump offered no legitimate explanation for the discrepancy between his position on mail-in voting and his personal voting habits, but insisted “there’s a big difference between somebody that’s out of state and does a ballot, and everything’s sealed, certified and everything else.”
In other instances of mail-in voting, however, “you get thousands and thousands of people sitting in somebody’s living room, signing ballots all over the place,” Trump claimed.
“You look at what they do, where they grab thousands of mail-in ballots, and they dump it. I’ll tell you what — and I don’t have to tell you, you can look at the statistics — there’s a lot of dishonesty going along with mail-in voting, mail-in ballots,” he continued, adding: “I think if you vote, you should go.”
The president’s advice to vote in person contradicts his administration’s social-distancing guidance, which recommends Americans maintain at least 6 feet of separation; avoid gatherings of more than 10 people; work or attend school from home whenever possible; and abstain from eating or drinking at bars, restaurants and food courts.
Although election experts acknowledge there are slightly higher levels of voter fraud perpetrated through mail-in voting than in-person voting, they agree overall cases of election fraud are rare and that local officials can implement measures to thwart such activity.
Congressional Democrats have pushed for more federal funding to facilitate vote-by-mail capabilities, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) predicted last week the country would “probably be moving to vote by mail” for the remainder of the 2020 election season.
The $2 trillion coronavirus relief package, which Congress passed and the president signed last month, provides the U.S. Postal Service with a $10 billion loan from the Treasury Department but does not wipe out its $11 billion debt or dole out the $25 billion appropriation Democrats had sought to help keep the federal carrier from going bankrupt.
The stimulus measure also includes $400 million in election security grants to help states “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the likely Democratic presidential nominee, said Monday the outbreak might force changes to the way voting is conducted, but argued the general election in the fall should not be delayed.
“I’d much prefer to have on — you know, in-person voting, but it depends. It depends on the state of play,” he said. “But we cannot, we cannot delay or postpone a constitutionally required November election.”
Roughly 57.2 million Americans participated in the 2016 election via early, absentee or mail-in voting, including active duty military who live either overseas or in the U.S. outside their home voting jurisdiction. That total represented 2 in 5 of all ballots cast.