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Trump's Attacks on Mail Voting Could Lead to Trouble for GOP on Election Day

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Trump's Attacks on Mail Voting Could Lead to Trouble for GOP on Election Day

2020-07-09 10:20:56

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Donald Trump (Image source: Screenshot)

The GOP is worried about the messaging that is getting out there regarding absentee voting, aka mail-in voting. Because of the situation with the pandemic, it's looking like this system would be helpful to rely on to keep voters within social distancing limits. However, Trump has expressed often how distrustful it is, leaving some GOP concerned it may affect the Republican turnout in votes.

Democrats made use of the mail-in ballots in primary elections this year. They cast mail-in votes in larger numbers than the Republicans, and that's worrisome to Republican campaigns who hear from their voters that the mail-in ballots can't be trusted.

"It's very concerning for Republicans," said a top Republican operative. "I guarantee our Republican Senate candidates are having it drilled into them that they cannot accept this. They have to have sophisticated mail programs. If we don't adapt, we won't win."

Trump has been complaining often, sometimes daily, on Twitter about mail-in ballots. He has claimed it will lead to widespread fraud and that foreign governments will seize the opportunity to place forged ballots. He's accused the Democrats of using the pandemic to expand the mail-in voting process to benefit themselves.

"Because of MAIL-IN BALLOTS, 2020 will be the most RIGGED election in our nation's history — unless this stupidity is ended," Trump tweeted in June. "We voted during World War One and World War Two with no problem, but now they are using COVID in order to cheat by using mail-ins!"

Republican campaign operatives are concerned about the message he's putting out. "It does reduce the likelihood of Republicans embracing this process," said a senior GOP strategist.

"Especially for older, more rural voters, that could be important for Republicans getting out the vote in 2020. I don't want 'I will not vote by mail' to become a political statement. But it may be too late."

Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh has tried to remedy the situation by saying the president is critical of universal mail balloting and not the kind of absentee voting already available to older voters and those out of the country on Election Day.

"What the president is talking about is efforts on the Democrats' part to weaken the integrity of our elections," he said.

Yet, there's no distinction between the two styles of mail-in balloting in 29 states. This includes Florida, where Trump, despite his complaints, voted in the primary — by mail.

Senior Trump campaign adviser Justin Clark believes "people don't give voters enough credit." He believes voters are able to differentiate between the president's comments about mass voting by mail versus absentee ballots.

"The president is absolutely right when he says vote by mail is less secure," he said. "I haven't seen any data or evidence that it is dampening voter turnout."

Because of the concerns, the campaign is conducting an "aggressive" effort to get the word out to voters that it's okay to vote via mail.

The primaries saw a different turnout in the parties. 118,000 Virginia voters applied for absentee ballots for Democratic primaries, yet only 59,000 did so for Republican primaries. Even though it was a done deal that Trump would be the GOP candidate, the Virginia primary included a Senate contest.

However, in Kentucky, the GOP voters turned out by mail. Only about 10 percent of the Democratic voters were mail-in, while 20 percent of the GOP voters were. Six hundred thousand voters in Georgia's primaries cast Democratic ballots, while only 524,000 cast Republican ballots.

"It's a legitimate question whether or not the president's rhetoric changes voter behavior on the Republican side," said a longtime adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Josh Holmes. "I think there's some evidence to suggest that it has."

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) posted a message on Facebook last month suggesting her followers vote in the primary along with a link to "information on how to return your absentee ballot."

This led to replies of, "I will be voting, in person, for you," and "Senator, I can't believe you'd support absentee ballots. We need in-person voting with ID or no voting at all."

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) saw similar comments on a post about the mail-in system being risky. One claimed "there is no way" mail-in voting is safe. Another wrote, "STOP THE MAIL-IN BALLOTS." One described mail-in ballots as the "easiest way to cheat that I know of with the exception of crooked election judges stuffing the ballot boxes."

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) sent a mail-in ballot request form to every voter in the state. "I don't want you sending a ballot application with my name on it to somebody else who could do something bad with it, and then I show up on Election day, and I'm not allowed to vote," said Joel Freeman, the chairman of the Kent County Republican Party in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

These concerns led to Michael Farage organizing a protest last month in Grand Rapids. He and about around 100 others burned their ballot applications. He said in an interview, "I believe there is shady business going on." 

Amidst all that distrust, the Republican voters are being hit with the near-daily messages from Trump about how distrustful the mail-in ballots are. It spells trouble for Trump in November. He's already dealing with polling numbers that plummet further every week. He needs all his base to show up, either in person or via mail. But he's further hurting himself with all those messages he posts.

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