WASHINGTON — President Trump is hurting the electoral chances of Republican politicians in the fall elections, and likely even his own, by making false claims that voting by mail is not secure, a Republican former governor and top homeland security official said.
“You’ve got Republican incumbents and challengers who are going to be using [mail-in voting] in order to hopefully either be reelected or gain advantage as a challenger. And so there’s a disconnect between the president and, I think, the balance of the party,” Tom Ridge, a former homeland security secretary, said in an interview on “The Long Game,” a Yahoo News podcast.
Ridge pointed to Arizona, a hotly contested battleground state where incumbent Republican Sen. Martha McSally badly trails Democratic challenger Mark Kelly in the polls. Eighty percent of Arizona voters cast ballots by mail.
Ridge said many Republican-leaning voters in a state like Arizona will likely want to vote by mail, a process Trump has repeatedly claimed can’t be trusted. “You really can’t expect them necessarily to wait in line three or four hours. Or they may say to themselves, ‘Because of my health concerns, I’m not going to the polls. I want to vote absentee,’” Ridge said.
“Mr. President, you have all the machinery. Take advantage of it,” he said.
Ridge also noted that Trump won the 2016 election, a contest in which about 25 percent of the vote came in by mail.
Ridge, who was governor of Pennsylvania from 1995 to 2001, did not vote for Trump in 2016 and spoke out publicly against him during the election. But Ridge’s appeal to Trump’s self-interest is part of the 74-year-old Vietnam veteran’s effort to promote mail-in voting.
In March, Ridge and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat, formed VoteSafe, which advocates for expanding access to voting by mail, and for greater congressional funding to states to help make this happen.
Ridge’s assertion that many Republican voters are likely to want to vote by mail, and that Republican candidates want their votes, is backed up by polling data and evidence in a number of states.
Numerous recent polling surveys show a consistent trend: about two-thirds of Americans support allowing anyone who wants to vote by mail to do so. One Pew survey found 52 percent support for conducting all elections by mail.
Republican voters are less likely than Democrats or independents to support voting by mail, with polls showing only about 40 percent support. That likely reflects Trump’s opposition. Although he and other members of his family and administration have voted by mail in recent elections, he has been on a campaign against it for months, claiming without any evidence that “mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed.”
It is an article of faith with Trump that widespread ballot and election fraud led to Hillary Clinton’s receiving some 3 million more votes than he did in the 2016 election, although he narrowly won several key states for an Electoral College victory. There is no evidence to support that idea, and a commission Trump established to examine voter fraud dissolved without issuing any significant findings.
Some Republican strategists believe expanding voter access in any form on balance benefits Democrats.
It is true that election fraud occasionally occurs, and mail-in voting is slightly less secure than in-person voting. But incidents of fraud are exceptionally rare, and some states that already conduct their elections entirely by mail have established best practices to prevent wrongdoing. These policies include allowing voters to track their ballots online by a unique bar code and training election officials on how to properly match a voter’s signature on the ballot to their signature on file.
Five states — Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado and Hawaii — already conducted their elections entirely by mail before the COVID-19 crisis created a new sense of urgency to expand this option for more voters. California, Arizona and Montana conduct most of their elections by mail, and another 24 states allow anyone who wants to cast a mail ballot to do so.
Only 18 states required an excuse — such as unavoidable travel or illness — to vote absentee before this year, and most of those states have eliminated that requirement for their primary elections this spring and summer. Many of those states are expected to conduct the fall election under the same relaxed rules, though most states are still formulating their plans.
Republican election officials in key battleground states are also aiming to use mail-in voting aggressively. The Republican National Committee sent a mailer to Republican voters in Pennsylvania urging them to “avoid lines and protect yourself from large crowds on Election Day” by voting through the mail. “Voting by mail is an easy, convenient and secure way to cast your ballot,” the mailer said.
The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Legislature passed a law this year allowing any voter who wants to vote by mail to do so, and yet mail-in-ballot requests for Republicans lagged far behind those for Democrats in the June 2 primary, in part because Republican voters are listening to Trump rather than to the Republican officials, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. And Democratic turnout in the primary was considerably larger than it was for Republicans.
In other battleground states such as Florida and Wisconsin, meanwhile, Republican operatives have been saying for months now that the GOP needs to be aggressive in pushing voters to vote by mail.
And Republican elected officials who oversee elections are also pushing for their states to aggressively expand voting by mail, in large part to ensure that all voters have a way to cast their ballot without worrying about contracting the coronavirus.
Republican secretaries of state, including Frank LaRose in Ohio and Michael Adams in Kentucky, have been outspoken in supporting voting by mail. Ohio is planning to send every registered voter an application for a mail-in ballot for the fall election.
“We’re fortunate that we’ve been doing vote-by-mail for a long time. We know how to do it, and we know how to get it done securely,” LaRose said.
However in other states, such as Iowa and Georgia, Republican election officials who sent mail-in applications to all voters in the primary — and saw Democratic turnout spike — are reversing themselves for the fall election. In Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Wednesday that instead of all registered voters receiving mail-in applications for the fall election, those who want to vote by mail will have to go online and request a form.
Voter demand is likely to be high regardless, and Pennsylvania’s June 2 primary showed how a large number of mail-in ballots in a state that does not have experience processing a large number of them can lead to a wait of several days to announce the winner of a close race.
Ridge, echoing a growing chorus, said American voters, politicians and TV networks need to prepare themselves for the possibility that it might take several days to count all the votes in the presidential election this fall. Historically, the winner has usually been announced on election night or early the next morning.
“It’s a public information campaign that I think everybody needs to accept,” Ridge said. “I don’t think there should be an expectation driven by the [TV] networks, who want to use their models and call the elections. I’m just not sure that’s the best way. America needs to reset its expectations.”
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