By Joseph Marks
with Tonya Riley
Democratic election officials are punching back at President Trump’s unfounded claims that voting by mail leads to widespread fraud.
In a new digital ad, Democratic secretaries of state describe the president’s assault on mail voting as an effort to suppress minority votes and link it to a long history of racist voting requirements such as poll taxes. The video also attacks Trump and Republicans for other actions that make it harder to vote, such as voter ID laws and purging the files of people who haven’t voted in several elections.
“White supremacy has no place in our elections and no place in our country,” the ad declares. It pledges Democratic secretaries of state will work to ensure voting by mail is an option for everyone during the coronavirus pandemic.
The ad – released at the same time as a new website promoting Democratic secretary of state candidates – marks a significant rhetorical escalation from election officials who’ve spent much of the pandemic countering the president’s unfounded claims with facts and figures that show fraud rates from voting by mail are exceptionally low.
It also underscores the stakes as election officials struggle to maintain public faith in the security and credibility of the 2020 elections while Trump continually undermines it.
“We’ve been working for years to make elections more accessible and more secure and we should be working equally hard to make elections safe during the covid 19 pandemic, [but] everything that Trump and Republican leaders are doing is the opposite of that,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, chairman of the Association of Democratic Secretaries of State, told me. “It’s galling and it’s frankly offensive.”
Padilla fears Trump’s attacks will damage public faith in the election’s outcome without good reason.
That’s especially concerning because election officials have spent much of their time since Russia’s 2016 election interference operation scrambling to correct genuine and serious security vulnerabilities. Those include voting machines that lack paper records, voter databases that aren’t sufficiently protected against hacking and staff without appropriate cybersecurity training.
Hand-marked absentee ballots, meanwhile, create minimal security concerns, according to the vast majority of election security experts.
“The voters deserve to have not just easy access to the ballot box, but confidence in the electoral process,” Padilla said. “When Trump attacks vote by mail with his lies, it undermines confidence, not just in vote by mail but in the election more broadly. And that’s a form of voter suppression if people lose confidence in the process and it drives down participation.”
Election officials have also been hit with a slew of new challenges since the pandemic struck making maintaining credibility with voters in November an uphill climb. Those include ballots not arriving on time, election machines not functioning and hours-long voting lines.
So, Trump’s baseless claims are only making things worse.
“Free and fair elections are the bedrock of our democracy,” Padilla said. “Trump is working to undermine the confidence in election results that he may not like this November.”
California is home to one of the most intense battles over mail voting.
The Republican National Committee is suing to reverse an order from Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) that counties must send absentee ballots directly to registered voters there. That differs from other states expanding mail voting during the pandemic by sending registered voters ballot request forms.
The RNC has steered clear of Trump’s broadsides against mail voting, instead accusing Newsom of violating counties’ authority over elections with “an illegal and brazen power grab.”
Padilla told me there’s nothing wrong with states choosing to send request forms, but expressed confidence his state’s system is safe enough that such a move would be an “unnecessary extra step.”
Officials there were also concerned a gap in U.S. Postal Service funding could slow mail delivery and wanted to make the process as simple as possible, he said.
The Democratic counterpunch comes as Trump is increasing his attacks on mail voting.
The president tweeted three times about the process yesterday, claiming without evidence it will lead to a “RIGGED ELECTION” and foreign countries will print millions of ballots. He also tweeted people who protest police violence should also risk the pandemic to vote in person.
In fact, instances of possible mail fraud in states that vote almost entirely by mail accounted for just 0.0025 percent of ballots in 2016 and 2018 — or about one out of every 39,000, a Washington Post analysis found.
It would also be nearly impossible for U.S. adversaries to interfere in the election by printing phony mail-in ballots because of a series of security checks including unique bar codes that connect the ballot to the voter and signature verifications, as Amy Gardner reports.
Even the National Association of Secretaries of State, which includes both Republicans and Democrats and generally avoids correcting the president, said it was “not aware of any evidence supporting the claims made by President Trump,” Voice of America’s Jeff Seldin reported. “As always, we are open to learning more about the administration’s concerns,” the association said.
The tweets came as officials gear up for primary elections today in Virginia, New York and Kentucky. In Kentucky officials are already concerned about another debacle in which mail ballots don’t arrive and a reduced number of in-person polling sites are overwhelmed with voters, Michelle Ye Hee Lee reports.
The president’s assault comes amid news that Vice President Pence voted by mail in Indiana’s 2020 primary.
Pence is just the latest top Trump official – including the president himself – to have voted by mail despite the administration’s attacks on the practice. Business Insider was the first to report on Pence.
Aaron Blake did a roundup of other Trump administration and family members who voted by mail or attempted to do so. They include Melania and Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, campaign manager Brad Parscale, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.