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Trump attacks mail-in voting fraud — but election officials say it's safe

Donald Trump
(Image credit: Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump has issued a new attack against mail-in voting on Twitter. This time, he is threatening a lawsuit against Nevada, which passed a bill to send mail-in ballots to all voters ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election. More states are expanding vote-by-mail policies to make voting safer during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

Trump has been railing against mail-in voting for months. Last week, at a press conference, he said, without evidence, "Mail-in ballots will lead to the greatest fraud." But many election officials across the country have disputed his claims that vote-by-mail ballots lead to fraud.

Last week, Trump also floated the possibility of delaying the election because mail-in voting would lead to inaccurate and fraudulent results. However, the president has no power to delay or cancel the election; the Constitution gives that power solely to Congress.

Even Trump's staunchest Republican allies, such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, did not support the president's proposal to delay the election.

The mail-in voting fraud fight

Election officials have repeatedly and consistently debunked Trump's claims that mail-in voting leads to fraud. ABC News reported that nearly 30 secretaries of state and elections board offices expressed no doubts in their ability to maintain the integrity of the November election. They said their states have unique security protocols and systems, such as signature verification software, registration vetting, and ballots with bar codes unique to registered voters.

In the case of Nevada, Trump is threatening to sue the state for a new bill passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature. It allows Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak to order the secretary of state (currently Republican Barbara Cegavske) to adjust election procedures during a state of emergency. The bill also expands who can vote by mail.

Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and many other top administration officials use absentee ballots to vote themselves. Trump and other Republicans have tried to draw a distinction between absentee ballots and mail-in voting, though they are the same thing. But Republicans have a problem with universal voting by mail. 

Tim Murtaugh, Trump campaign spokesman, told CNN, "It is now the stated goal of Democrats to eliminate protections for election integrity, such as universally mailing a ballot to every registered voter, whether they asked for one or not. They also want to eliminate signature matching and clear the way for ballot harvesting, which are also wide open opportunities for fraud."

It is true that mail-in voting may be deployed on a scale never used before, due to the pandemic. In 2016, 24% of all ballots were cast by mail, according to federal data. Experts expect that will significantly increase in this election. Before this year, five states had universal mail-in voting. Now, with Nevada's new law, there are eight. 

Washington is one of those five states that adopted universal mail-in voting pre-pandemic. Secretary of State Kim Wyman told NPR that in the 2018 election, only 142 cases of voter fraud were found out of 3.2 million ballots. "So is it perfect? No, but it's not rampant voter fraud either," Wyman said.

U.S. Postal Service delays and mail-in voting

In addition to the states that have universal-mail in voting, 29 other states allow "no excuse" absentee voting. That means a registered voter can request an absentee ballot (and mail it in) without having to provide an excuse, like being sick or taking a trip.

But with so many states expanding vote-by-mail, that means a heavier load on the U.S. Postal Service — at a time when it's already strained by years of financial difficulties. The head of the union recently warned of significant mail delays due to new procedures implemented by Trump-appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy.

The delays and increased financial strain that have plagued the U.S. Postal Service throughout the pandemic could also lend to the problems that may arise from expanded mail-in voting. Trump has also waged war agains the Postal Service for years, mostly about the rate it charges Amazon. 

With an increase in mail-in voting, current delays will be exacerbated. Wyman said, "I'm very concerned that delays in postal delivery is going to have a negative effect on absentee ballots and vote by mail elections."

In his eulogy for Civil Rights pioneer, Congressman John Lewis, former President Barack Obama decried the administration for "attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don’t get sick."