- Donald Trump and Republican allies are proposing to restrict or even end mail-in voting
- GOP candidates are proposing new laws to curb the practice they claim is susceptible to fraud
- GOP lawyers have filed dozens of lawsuits against mail-in voting, though there have been no cases of mass fraud
- Voting rights advocates said Trump and allies have one goal: Suppress Democratic votes
WASHINGTON – When Donald Trump and his office-seeking “election deniers” talk about making changes to the U.S. election system, they have at least one specific target in mind.
Trump, Republican lawyers and GOP politicians seeking statewide offices across the country are offering a variety of proposals to restrict or even eliminate mail-in voting, from lawsuits to legislation, despite its rising popularity with voters and many safeguards against ballot fraud.
“Mail-in voting appears to be the primary target of the election deniers,” said long-time election attorney Norm Eisen, and their efforts will only increase if they are elected to public office next month.
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Their chances of success remain to be seen and will depend in part on the current midterm elections.
Trump and supporters claim that mail-in ballots invite cheating, while public interest activists say many Republicans have a more prosaic reason for wanting to curb them: They have tended to favor Democrats in recent elections, in part because Trump has attacked the practice so much that Republicans are discouraged from participating.
Eisen said Trump’s ongoing complaints about mail-in voting have “no basis in fact,” and constitute “yet another bizarre conspiracy theory.”
Battles at the state level
Trump-backed election deniers are targeting mail-in voting in a variety of ways in battleground states, efforts that figure to continue after the midterm elections.
The most publicized project is in Pennsylvania, where a group of Trump supporters are pushing to repeal a law that allows “no excuses” mail voting. Repeal would force voters to provide a reason for voting by mail, such as overseas military deployment or being out of town because of work and therefore drive down the number of mail ballots.
In 2020, President Joe Biden defeated Trump in Pennsylvania by some 82,000 votes, a margin covered by mailed-in ballots favoring the Democratic candidate.
Republicans in Pennsylvania and other states say current mail-in voting systems provide multiple opportunities for fraud and unfairness. They saidsay people should be required to vote in the traditional way: show up at a polling place and submit a ballot.
Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania, said in August that he backs “legislation introduced in the Senate to repeal no-excuse mail-in voting (and) mandate signature verification.”
Doug McLinko, a Republican county commissioner in Bradford County, Pa., and a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the state over no excuses mail-in voting, said a problem with the current system is “chain of custody.”
“Who handles that ballot until it gets back to the election office?” he said. “You don’t know who’s voting on it.”
More state plans
Gubernatorial and secretary of state candidates in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada and Arizona want to eliminate or at least complicate mail-in voting but have been less than specific about their plans.
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Trump Republicans have called for eliminating “drop boxes” that are used for deposit of mailed ballots. Other proposed rule changes would negate mail ballots if they are any mistakes on filing forms, including spelling errors and blank boxes. Other proposals restrict the times in which state officials can accept mailed-in ballots.
In Pennsylvania, a coalition of Republican groups filed a lawsuit seeking to block the counting of undated mail ballots. A coalition of voters rights groups said failure to date the forms is “immaterial to voters’ eligibility” and should not be used “to disenfranchise voters.”
North Carolina is mired in litigation over whether voters can correct minor errors on their forms in order to have their mail votes counted. Litigation in Texas involves lawsuits over the number of drop boxes that can be used per county.
“Many election deniers now want to restrict the time period during which absentee votes can be counted – requiring any absentee votes to be received by, or even before, Election Day,” said a Brookings Institution report called “Democracy on the ballot – What do election deniers want?”
Many of these proposals are vague. A political committee calling itself the America First Secretary of State Coalition says it wants to “eliminate mail-in ballots,” but “keep traditional absentee ballots.” It does not explain how that would work.
Another tactic: Lawsuits
In the meantime, Trump followers have filed dozens of lawsuits against some of the same aspects of mail-in voting.
Anti-mail balloting lawsuits have been filed in battleground states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wisconsin and North Carolina.
Trump’s impossible dream
Trump himself, who has wrapped his false claims of voter fraud in 2020 largely around mail-in voting, has made the most extreme proposal to curb mail voting: He has repeatedly called for same-day voting with paper ballots – a proposal that is highly unlikely to get past any legislature or court, regardless of who is governor or secretary of state.
“We don’t like mail-in ballots,” Trump said last weekend during a rally in Robstown, Texas. “You know what you really want? You want paper ballots and same day voting with voter ID.”
This even though Trump has often voted by mail himself.
Kyle Miller, a policy advocate with the organization Protect Democracy, said it’s highly unlikely that Trump and his allies can eliminate mail-in balloting; it’s too popular with too many voters.
They can, however, chip away at the ease of mail-in voting and reduce its numbers, he said – and their tactics can continue to undermine faith in the election system in any event.
Public interest organizations have criticized election deniers all year.
Their biggest concern is what some call “election subversion” – the idea that governors, secretaries of state and legislators might seek to reverse the results of the 2024 election if their candidate, presumably Trump, does not win the popular vote in their states.
None of that could happen until after the 2024 election, analysts said; in the meantime Trump and Republican attacks figure to escalate.
Miller said Trump’s real motive is the fact that Democrats have benefited more from mail-in voting, in part because of Trump’s complaints.
“Republican voters didn’t use it because they were told by their leaders not to trust it,” Miller said. “They depressed their own turnout.”