White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Tuesday, May 26, 2020, in Washington.
Press secretary defends her record of mail-in voting
01:48 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

As President Donald Trump rolled to his West Palm Beach, Florida, golf course on the morning of March 7, his motorcade filed past a library where local officials were preparing for the first day of in-person early voting in Florida’s presidential primary contest.

Trump didn’t stop at that site or any of the 15 other early voting locations in Palm Beach County that were opening that day. By the time the library opened for voting at 10 a.m., Trump had already arrived at his golf course — whose main entrance is across Summit Boulevard from the library. When he departed the course hours later, he didn’t stop to vote either.

Trump would drive past the library four more times that weekend without dropping in to cast a ballot. Instead, he voted by mail – the very option he has begun railing against as governors seek to expand remote voting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump has demonized the practice as rife with fraud and an attempt at swaying elections toward Democrats, claims that aren’t based in fact. On Tuesday, he criticized efforts in California to expand mail-in voting as a “rigged system.”

“We’re not going to destroy this country by allowing things like that to happen. We’re not destroying our country,” he said.

At the same time, he has acknowledged there are some acceptable instances of mail-in voting – such as his own.

“Absentee is OK: You’re sick. You’re away. As an example, I have to do an absentee because I’m voting in Florida, and I happen to be President. I live in that very beautiful house over there that’s painted white,” he said from the Rose Garden on Tuesday.

Over the past month, Trump and his aides have repeatedly explained his absentee vote as necessary because he was busy carrying out his role out-of-state.

“You know why I voted? Because I happened to be in the White House and I won’t be able to go to Florida and vote,” Trump said in April.

“If you’re President of the United States and if you vote in Florida, and you can’t be there, you should be able to send in a ballot,” he said last week at a factory in Michigan.

“If somebody has to mail it in because they’re sick or, by the way, because they live in the White House and they have to vote in Florida and they won’t be in Florida – if there’s a reason for it, that’s okay,” he said on the White House South Lawn last week.

Earlier this month, his spokeswoman reiterated that the President’s decision to cast a ballot by mail was based on his inability to vote in Florida.

“The President is, after all, the President, which means he’s here in Washington; he’s unable to cast his vote down in Florida, his state of residence,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said. “So, for him, that’s why he had to do a mail-in vote. But he supports mail-in voting for a reason, when you have a reason that you are unable to be present.”

But for Trump, options did exist to vote in person. He was yards away from a polling place during his final visit to Mar-a-Lago before the pandemic ended widespread travel in mid-March.

Trump spent March 7, March 8 and part of March 9 in Palm Beach and visited his golf club three times over the weekend. Trump and his wife, first lady Melania Trump, changed their legal residence from New York to Palm Beach last fall.

Early voting in the county began on March 7, and lasted through March 15, the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections confirmed to CNN on Wednesday. Polls were open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The list of 15 early voting locations included the Main Palm Beach County Library, on Summit Boulevard across from Trump’s club. It also included seven other sites within 15 miles of Mar-a-Lago, including libraries in Palm Beach Gardens, West Palm Beach, Wellington, Lake Worth and a community center in Boynton Beach.

Trump did not visit any of them that weekend. Instead, on March 9, Trump requested his mail-in ballot, according to the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections website. It was received for processing on March 16.

The White House declined to comment on Trump’s decision to forgo early voting in Florida.

In the past, presidents have used a mix of in-person and absentee voting to cast ballots while in office. President Barack Obama, who sought to use his appearances at polling locations to inspire Americans to vote themselves, voted early in Chicago during the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections. He voted absentee in other contests. His wife, Michelle Obama, is headlining an effort this year to expand mail-in and early voting.

Trump has spent the past month railing against attempts to expand mail voting during the coronavirus, claiming without evidence that it could lead to fraud. Many governors have said that voting remotely is necessary amid a pandemic, but Trump and his aides have insisted it’s too early to know whether in-person voting will be off-limits in November.

Earlier this month, CNN reported Trump was getting 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.

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 fraud involving mail-in voting is 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 Wednesday, McEnany responded to a report in the Tampa Bay Times that she herself had been regularly voting absentee in Florida, a revelation that came after her ardent defense of the President’s stance on the matter.

“Absentee voting has the word absent in it for a reason. It means you’re absent from the jurisdiction or unable to vote in person,” she said in a statement. “President Trump is against the Democrat plan to politicize the coronavirus and expand mass mail-in voting without a reason, which has a high propensity for voter fraud. This is a simple distinction that the media fails to grasp.”

In the statement, McEnany did not accurately describe the voting system in Florida. According to the Florida Division of Elections, people can vote by mail without offering an excuse – a more expansive definition than “absentee voting.”

“Vote-by-mail refers to voting a ballot received by mail or picked up by or for a voter instead of going to the polls to vote during early voting period or Election Day. Except on Election Day, no excuse is needed to vote a vote-by-mail ballot,” the Division of Elections says on its website.

Jim Acosta and Abby Phillip contributed to this report.