Trump’s claims of widespread mail-in voting fraud could backfire
Since the spring, President Trump has launched a full-fledged assault on voting by mail without any substantiated evidence. He has been tweeting, re-tweeting and talking about massive fraud and rigged election. Critics are saying that this is a clear indication of trying to discredit the US election in advance as his popularity is slipping away. Several recent polls suggest that he is currently losing to Democrat opponent Joe Biden. Mr Trump's mishandling of Coronavirus pandemic, declining economy and recent political uproar have caused him to lose his popularity.
Recently at a White House Press Conference Mr Trump said, "Mail ballots, they cheat. Mail ballots are very dangerous for this country because of cheaters. They go collect them. They are fraudulent in many cases. They have to vote. They should have voter ID, by the way." Casting a ballot by mail is not a new way to vote in the USA. Noteworthy, even though Mr Trump has been spreading false accusations of massive fraud in mail-in voting, he himself voted by mail in the past.
In the USA, voters cast their votes in two different ways, in-person and by mail. Mail-in voting has two components. One is 'early voting' and the other one is 'absentee ballot'. Early voting is if someone is unable to go to a polling centre for health or other reasons, he/she can request a ballot by mail, fill it out and mail it back to the election committee. Absentee ballot is for voters those who cannot be present in their state on the election day. They, too, can request a ballot by mail way ahead of the election. Even though, both the early voting and absentee ballot mean voting by mail, but Mr Trump's only target is the early voting, not the absentee ballot.
According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Election Data Lab, the practice of vote by mail dates back to the Civil War when soldiers were given the opportunity to vote from the battlefield. Currently, all states allow at least a portion of their voting population to vote by mail.
Studies have shown that all forms of voting fraud are extremely rare in the United States. A national study in 2016 found few credible allegations of fraudulent voting. "Voting fraud in the United States is rare, less rare is fraud using mail ballots," said Charles Stewart III of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Richard L Hasen, an elections expert and Professor of Law at the University of California said, "Election fraud in the United States is very rare." The Republican Secretary of State of Washington State dismissed Mr Trump's notion of mail-in vote fraud.
Mr Trump earlier wanted the election to be delayed until ongoing corona problems were resolved. According to the US Constitution, a President does not have power to change the election day. It would have to be approved by majorities in the House of Representatives. It is quite unlikely that a Democratic controlled Congress would delay the election.
Therefore, Mr Trump reversed his position on the mail-in voting. Now, he has announced that the mail-in voting is acceptable in some states but not all. He will accept mail-in voting in the Republican governed Arizona and Florida, but will not accept it in the Democratic governed states like Nevada and Pennsylvania. The Trump campaign has recently filed a lawsuit against Nevada's Secretary of State for mailing out ballots to all the active voters in the state. Trump has threatened to withhold aid from Michigan and Nevada because of purportedly illegal activity related to absentee ballots. According to the states, they are doing nothing illegal. They are only trying to make sure that the voters can exercise their right to vote without jeopardizing their health during a pandemic.
With concerns mounting over how the country can conduct elections during a pandemic and Democrats pressing for alternatives to in-person voting. Many states are now embracing mail-in voting as a safe method to vote and sending ballots to all eligible and active voters well ahead of the upcoming election.
Several Republican leaders have expressed concerns over Trump's unsubstantiated claims of mail-in voting fraud. Senate Majority Whip Republican John Thune commented that with the exception of minor voting frauds, there is no report of widespread mail-in voting fraud. He also said that the Republicans should encouraged voters to vote by mail. Senator Thune believes by sowing doubts in the minds of voters about the mail-in voting is ultimately going to hurt the Republicans in the upcoming election.
Due to the spread of Covid-19, many Republican voters are reluctant to go for an in-person vote, but Trump's unsubstantiated complaints of the mail-in voting fraud, they would be reluctant to vote by mail, too. As a result, the chances are they would not vote. Which means a loss for the Republican party in the election.
About two months ago, West Virginia's Republican Secretary of State had mailed absentee ballots to all 1.2 million voters of the state. All the Republican and Democrat lawmakers of Kentucky unanimously agreed that anyone can apply online for a mail-in ballot. Republican election officials in states such as Iowa and Nebraska have done the same thing.
Despite Trump's claims of widespread voting fraud, many states have relaxed the policy of mail-in voting due to the pandemic. Experts estimate as many as 70 per cent of all ballots cast in November's general election could be cast by mail.
Reference: The Washington Post, NY Times, CNN
Lizi Rahman, an author,
columnist, educator and activist, living in New York