President Donald Trump has been increasingly engaged in the legal battles unfolding across the country over the issue of vote-by-mail, urging his political advisers to take an aggressive posture to counter Democratic lawsuits on the issue.
Trump met with his political aides on Thursday at the White House about the legal efforts, a source familiar with the meeting said. The meeting came as the Republican National Committee has upped their initial spending of $10 million to $20 million to fight lawsuits brought by Democrats across the country over voting procedures.
The source said Trump has been particularly interested in combating ballot harvesting, which allows party officials and outside organizations to collect signed and sealed mail-in ballots, a practice legal in some states. And he has been pleased with the efforts being made to combat Democratic legal maneuvers, which include opposing a push by Democrats to eliminate ballot signature match requirements and to automatically mail ballots to all eligible voters, including inactive voters.
The RNC’s legal efforts are largely defensive in nature, but have dramatically ramped up in response to an increase in lawsuits by Democrats seeking to expand mail-in voting rules across the country in light of the coronavirus crisis. Republicans are involved in legal battles in 13 states across the country.
Experts say there is no evidence that mail-in voting benefits one party over the other. And while Trump has claimed that mail-in voting will result in massive fraud, experts say voter fraud involving mail-in voting is still rare. A majority of Americans favor changing election laws to allow everyone to vote by mail, according to an April NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, but Republicans are far less likely than Democrats to agree.
On Friday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, announced that ballots will be mailed to all eligible voters in the state ahead of the November general election because of coronavirus. A source said that Republicans are actively examining their legal options, but it is unclear if they would have standing to stop the move.
Trump has also been engaged in a separate issue: a hotly contested California special election in the 25th Congressional District that Republicans are bullish about retaking from Democrats’ hands after Rep. Katie Hill resigned from her seat amid scandal. The special election will be held Tuesday. The Cook Political Report rates the race as a “Democratic Toss Up.”
On Saturday, despite his vocal opposition to mail-in voting, Trump was critical of expansions to in-person voting in the race.
Most voters in that district will vote by mail, but there are vote centers available throughout the district as well. Based on the mail-in ballots returned so far, Republicans believe they have the upper hand in the race, despite Trump’s claims that mail-in voting typically benefits Democrats.
Trump tweeted on Saturday: “CA25 is a Rigged Election. Trying to steal it from @MikeGarcia2020,” referring to Republican businessman Mike Garcia, who is competing against Christy Smith, a Democratic state assemblywoman, for the open seat.
Trump, who has endorsed Garcia, blasted California election officials for announcing on Friday that they would open an additional in-person voting location in a part of the district that he described as “the most Democrat area in the State” during the last weekend of voting before the special election.
“They are trying to steal another election. It’s all rigged out there. These votes must not count. SCAM!” Trump tweeted.
The new voting location will be opened this weekend in Lancaster, California, to rectify the absence of in-person voting locations in the city. Nearly a quarter of Lancaster voters are black and Democrats argued that the absence of polling locations in that part of the district disenfranchised voters of color.
“Mike Garcia has made it clear from the start that he is in lockstep with Donald Trump and will put Trump’s needs before the district, leaving CA-25 residents to ‘fend for themselves,’” Kunal Atit, deputy campaign manager for the Smith campaign, said in a statement. “Now he is working with the President to weave baseless conspiracy theories to disenfranchise African American and Latino voters and cast doubt on the integrity of our election. This behavior shows just how out of touch he is with our values.”
“Every American and Californian has the Constitutional right as a citizen to cast their ballot and have it counted,” Andy Orellana, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement. “Expanding voting access is NOT stealing an election, contrary to what Republicans in Washington may believe. Instead of undermining an election at the 11th hour they should follow the lead of the Republican Mayor of Lancaster who is supporting their candidate and called for this voting center to be opened.”
Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, a Republican who supports Garcia, backed the change.
“This is something the county should fix immediately,” Parris told LAist this week. “There should not be even the appearance of affecting the outcome by limiting the ability to vote.”
“I want Mike to win, I think he’d be a better congressman, but I don’t want to ‘jimmy’ the election,” Parris said.
Notably, other Republicans, including RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is from California, have cried foul, but have used the announcement of the new voting site to fundraise for Garcia and urge Republicans to cast their ballots, rather than pushing for these votes to be invalidated.
This story has been updated with a response from the Smith campaign and the DCCC.