By Associated Press
President Donald Trump is warning without evidence that expanding mail-in voting will increase voter fraud. But several GOP state officials are forging ahead to do just that, undermining one of Trump’s arguments about how elections should be conducted amid the coronavirus outbreak.
While Trump has complained that voting by mail was “ripe for fraud,” Republican state officials in Iowa, Ohio and West Virginia have all taken steps to ease access to mail-in ballots, following health officials’ warnings that voting in person can risk transmission of the deadly virus. The Republican governor of Nebraska urged voters to apply for absentee ballots. Florida’s GOP chairman says the party will continue to run a robust vote-by-mail program.
The disconnect between Trump and Republican state officials illustrates the abrupt, hard turn the president and his national political allies have taken on the issue. Before the coronavirus hit, many in the GOP had warmed to mail-in voting, agreeing that it can be conducted without fraud and even used to their political advantage.
But Trump’s hard line appears to be driven by his personal suspicions and concerns about his own reelection prospects. Statewide mail-in voting “doesn’t work out well for Republicans,” he tweeted this week.
Trump’s comments put his Republican allies in states in the awkward position of trying to defend their practices without criticizing the president. Some said they agreed with Trump, even as their actions seem to suggest otherwise. Others suggested Trump was out of line.
It is “disappointing when anyone in leadership” makes fraud claims, said Kim Wyman, the Republican secretary of state of Washington state, which has had universal mail voting since 2010. “When it happens, the public loses confidence in the foundational pillar of our system.”
Wyman was part of a group of bipartisan election officials who spoke to reporters Thursday to push for money from Congress to deal with the virus.
In Iowa, Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate did not criticize Trump directly, but he, too, said that sowing “doubt about the integrity of the process is as dangerous as vote fraud.”
Iowa is mailing requests for absentee ballots to all 2.1 million registered voters ahead of special elections in July. Pate described the move as a reaction to “an emergency.”
“You need to have some flexibility,” he said.
There is no evidence of widespread mail voting fraud. The most prominent recent case occurred in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District in 2018, when a consultant hired by the GOP candidate was linked to an effort to tamper with absentee ballots.
From the MarketWatch archives (February 2019): Republican Mark Harris drops his bid to be named winner and new election ordered after ballot tampering in North Carolina House race
Trump himself requested a mail ballot for Florida’s GOP primary last month. Still, this week he said “mail-in voting is horrible, it’s corrupt,” and the Republican National Committee moved to help state parties block expansion of the franchise. The effort was most notable in Wisconsin, where voters were forced to wait in long lines after the GOP majority on the state’s Supreme Court prevented the Democratic governor’s last-ditch attempt to delay the election.
But there’s no consensus about Trump’s position.