After claiming inaccurately for weeks that mail voting is rife with fraud, President Donald Trump is now backing off his attacks on mail ballots in his home state.
“Whether you call it Vote by Mail or Absentee Voting, in Florida the election system is Safe and Secure, Tried and True,” Trump tweeted Tuesday.
Trump’s tweet — in stark contrast to numerous others in recent weeks warning of a rigged election — comes as Republican mail ballot registration lags behind Democrats in Florida ahead of the November election, which will be held under the cloud of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Later on Tuesday, Trump was asked during a news conference why he supported mail voting in Florida.
“So Florida’s got a great Republican governor,” Trump said, referring to his political ally, Gov. Ron DeSantis. “And it had a great Republican governor (before that) ... and over a long period of time they’ve been able to get the absentee ballots done extremely professionally. Florida’s different from other states,” Trump said.
Republicans have requested about 1.3 million mail ballots ahead of the Aug. 18 primary election, while Democrats have requested 1.9 million. Mail ballots can be requested through the U.S. Postal Service until 10 days before the Nov. 3 election, but Democrats have held up the lead they have built up so far as a significant advantage in a state where Republicans have for years secured an edge by registering and turning out mail voters.
That gap has widened noticeably since Trump began to assail mail voting in reaction to efforts by different states to automatically send mail ballots to all registered voters as a means to avoid Election Day voting crowds and the spread of COVID-19. Since then, isolated instances of mail ballot fraud have been caught around the U.S., and New York has struggled to count a deluge of mail ballots during its June election.
But experts continue to say that systemic election fraud is rare, and many remain more concerned about voters making mistakes on their mail ballots that result in their votes being invalidated — like in California, where more than 100,000 mail votes were rejected during the March presidential primary.
Florida has experienced its own problems. In Miami, abuses by mail ballot harvesters known as boleteras led officials to pass a local law banning individuals from carrying more than two mail ballots belonging to other voters. In 2012 and 2013, prosecutors investigated a number of campaign operatives in races for Congress and Miami mayor and Miami-Dade mayor over the illegal collection of mail ballots and fraudulent online mail ballot requests.
But Florida’s mail ballot system is viewed as trustworthy by election supervisors, who have promoted mail voting this year. Election offices also have the ability under Florida law to begin processing mail ballots weeks before Election Day, and will have 10 days after the election to continue counting and verifying mail ballots submitted by the time polls close by 7 p.m. — flexibility that should help avoid complications like the problems currently experienced in New York.
Trump, who votes by mail in Florida, has repeatedly argued that Florida’s mail ballot program is appropriate because it is an “absentee” system by which voters receive ballots when they can’t vote in person because they are away. In fact, a mail ballot is available to any Florida voter who requests one.
The Republican Party of Florida has tried to seize on Trump’s “absentee” wording in recent efforts to register new mail voters, highlighting only a select portion of a recent Trump tweet that touted absentee voting but trashed mail ballots.
Following Trump’s tweet, his campaign’s Florida press secretary, Emma Vaughn, sent out an email stressing that Trump’s objections have been based on universal mail voting, and that in Florida’s system “the onus is on the voter, to both register to vote and to request the ballot.” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany reiterated that point Tuesday.
“The president has always said absentee voting for a reason is different than mass mail-out voting like what Nevada is seeking to do, which leads to mass fraud,” McEnany told reporters Tuesday at the White House, referring to a bill signed Monday by Nevada’s governor sending mail ballots to all registered voters.
But Florida’s Republican-led Legislature authorized no-excuse mail voting in 2002, and in 2016 voted to replace “absentee” with “vote-by-mail” in state statutes. There are more than 4 million voters in the state who have requested a mail ballot — more than double the number of all voters in the state of Nevada.
“I’m not concerned about mail in voting in Florida,” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, told reporters Saturday during a conference call set up by Trump’s campaign.
At the White House Tuesday, McEnany, who also votes by mail in Florida, said Trump, in his tweet, alluded to a recently settled court case brought by progressive organizations over vote-by-mail processing regulations, including a challenge to extend the 7 p.m. Election Night deadline to submit mail ballots.
“Florida’s Voting system has been cleaned up (we defeated Democrats attempts at change), so in Florida I encourage all to request a Ballot & Vote by Mail! #MAGA,” Trump tweeted.