President Donald Trump went on a tear against mail-in voting Thursday morning. In a pair of tweets, he once again falsely claimed that mail-in voting was rife with fraud and an easy target for foreign election interference.
“Mail-In Voting is already proving to be a catastrophic disaster,” Trump tweeted. “The Dems talk of foreign influence in voting, but they know that Mail-In Voting is an easy way for foreign countries to enter the race.”
More and more states are considering mail-in ballots as the coronavirus pandemic shows little sign of slowing down in the US before the November presidential election. After drawing a false distinction between absentee voting and mail-in voting, the President suggested delaying the election instead of relying on mail-in voting.
He tweeted: “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
Facts First: This is yet another egregious attempt by Trump to mislead the public by sowing doubts about mail-in-voting by making false claims about the potential of voter fraud and rigged elections.
No matter how many times the President claims otherwise, voting-by-mail rarely results in fraud. And although Trump has tried to spin the two as fundamentally different before, absentee and mail-in voting are essentially the same, both subject to several degrees of verification. As more Americans than ever are expected to cast mail-in ballots this year due to the pandemic, experts acknowledge there might be some logistical issues in terms of people being able to receive and mail in their ballots. But that’s a far cry from the claims of fraud and rigged elections that the President continues to espouse.
Absentee and mail-in voting
Trump often defends absentee voting – a practice he is more than familiar with – while lambasting mail-in voting. But the voting methods are very similar, and experts have told CNN they are largely “the same thing.”
“No-excuse mail voting or absentee voting – whatever you call it – is essentially the same thing,” David Becker, founder of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation and Research told CNN’s Marshall Cohen. “You request a ballot, you get a ballot, you vote, you send it in, and there are protections in place. It doesn’t matter whether you call it mail voting or absentee voting. It’s the same thing.”
Rick Hasen, a University of California-Irvine professor and one of the nation’s top experts in election law, told CNN “The President seems to be trying to distinguish between mail in voting where someone has to have an excuse and no excuse voting by mail.”
While there can be some differences in the methods used to implement absentee and mail-in voting, experts say that they are both secure ways of voting.
“The bottom line is that absentee and mail balloting are secure in America,” Wendy Weiser, the director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, told CNN. “Election officials, Republicans and Democrats alike, pretty much universally are confident in the system.”
You can read more here on how mail-in voting works.
Mail ballot fraud
Trump’s insistence that an increase in mail-in voting this November will result in massive fraud is unfounded.
While rare instances of voter fraud from mail-in ballots do occur, it is nowhere near a widespread problem in the US election system.
Mail ballot fraud is exceedingly rare in part because states have systems and processes in place to prevent forgery, theft and voter fraud. These systems would apply to both absentee ballots and mail-in ballots for in-state voters.
You can read more about the history of mail ballot fraud and Trump’s false claims about it here.
Contrary to the President’s insinuation, nonpartisan election experts say it would be very difficult for foreign countries to influence the election using mail-in voting, which would require printing millions of fraudulent mail-in ballots.
Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, William Evanina, said in a statement Friday that it is “extraordinarily difficult for foreign adversaries to broadly disrupt or change vote tallies without detection.”
Chris Krebs, the Trump administration’s own official in charge of securing elections has also said mail-in voting is not an easy way for foreign countries to get involved with US elections.
At a Brookings event in mid-July on “Election integrity and security in the era of COVID-19,” Krebs, who is director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, outlined the complexities involved in a foreign adversary attempting to counterfeit a mail-in ballot and the steps in place to verify each ballot’s authenticity.
During the same event, David Becker said the voting system is such that the situation Trump describes would be “virtually impossible.”
“There’s so many checks and balances in the system it’s virtually impossible, I’d never say impossible, it’s virtually impossible to change the outcome of an election in a way that would be undetected,” Becker said.
Changing election day
In his tweet, Trump suggested that the election be delayed “until people can properly, securely and safely vote.”
Who has the authority to change the date of a US presidential election? In one word, Congress.
The US Constitution only permits Congress to change the date of a presidential election. In order for Trump to have that power, Congress would have to pass a new statute giving it to him.
In a report from the Congressional Research Service from March 20 which looked at legal considerations for potentially postponing the federal elections this year, it notes that “[o]nly Congress may change this date by enacting a new statute.”
“The presidential election date has never been changed in response to an emergency,” the report continues.
The CRS also explains that “[u]nlike the practice of some states that allow the Governor to postpone an election during emergencies, neither the Constitution nor Congress provides any similar power to the President.”
So while Trump is welcome to advocate for a change-of-date, he’s powerless to actually do so. And with Democrats – who strongly support mail-in voting during the pandemic – controlling the House and many Senate Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, already rejecting the President’s suggestion, it’s almost certain Trump won’t get his wish.
CNN’s Marshall Cohen contributed to this report.