Trump's War On Mail-In Voting Could Backfire

[ Posted Wednesday, May 20th, 2020 – 16:57 UTC ]

Today President Donald Trump returned to a favorite bugaboo of his, the continuation of a relentless smear job on absentee (or "mail-in") voting. This is part and parcel of his world view, which is both contradictory in the extreme as well as laughably hypocritical. Trump's basic position is that he doesn't like it when Democrats use absentee ballots, while it is just fine for Republicans (including, notably, himself) to do so. But the biggest danger for Trump isn't being ridiculed for such blatantly partisan contradictions, but rather that he might in fact motivate more people to vote against him and the Republican Party. Which would, of course, be deliciously ironic for Democrats.

Trump, as usual, began by getting his basic facts wrong. He rage-tweeted about Michigan sending out "absentee ballots," when in fact what had just been announced was that the state would send out applications for absentee ballots to every registered voter. Trump was apparently quickly informed of his mistake, because he then deleted the original tweet and replaced it with one that got this point right. Trump also vented his rage at Nevada, and actually threatened both states by telling them he'd be withholding federal funding to them. This funding was left unspecified, meaning nobody had any clue what Trump was even talking about. The White House has so far been unable to clarify this point.

The Michigan elections official in question (Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson) tweeted back at Trump, pointing out that other states had done exactly the same thing without any pushback from Trump. She pointed out that Iowa, Georgia, Nebraska, and West Virginia had taken the same reasonable step to ensure everyone's safety during the coronavirus pandemic. Notably, all those states are run by Republicans. Which is almost certainly why Trump didn't unload on any of them. Mitt Romney also joined in the fray, pointing out that Utah conducts their elections almost solely by mail, and that they still manage to elect lots of Republicans. It's only in states with Democrats in charge, like Michigan and Nevada, that spark Trump's ire. Or, perhaps, "only in battleground presidential states with Democrats in charge."

Trump, of course, has a deep-seated fear that he's not going to win the popular vote in November. This is not an irrational fear, because he already did lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Trump tried to explain this away by claiming massive (and non-existent) voter fraud, focusing for some reason on New Hampshire and California. But it's pretty hard to get anyone to believe a conspiracy theory when Trump lost by three million votes. Before the 2016 election even happened, Trump was already prepping his theory for why he lost: "The vote must have been rigged! Rigged, I tells ya!" What he's doing now with Michigan and Nevada is merely an extension of what he already did four years ago, in other words.

There are, of course, all sorts of real-world reasons why Trump is not just wrong but laughably so when he tries to claim that mail-in voting is somehow "cheating." The first is that voter fraud is virtually non-existent. Republicans have been screaming about it for years, but that doesn't make it any more true. Every single examination of voter fraud in America has found so few instances that they don't even qualify as a rounding error. Out of literally billions of votes cast, at most a few hundred cases of voter fraud have been found. That is such a miniscule fraction of the total that it is absolutely impossible that any election's result would have been changed in the slightest, one way or another. Trump even prominently convened a commission on voting fraud after being elected, but it quietly disbanded after finding absolutely no problem whatsoever.

This, of course, hasn't stopped Trump from denouncing the non-existent problem. In fact, the only election where rampant election fraud happened (note: not voter fraud) was in a House election down in North Carolina where the Republican cheated. The election was so tainted that it had to be held a second time, in fact, which is almost unheard of in American politics.

Nevertheless, without a scintilla of an iota of a shred of evidence, Trump still deeply believes that mail-in voting somehow equates to "Democrats cheating." In Democratic states, that is. The biggest and most obvious hypocrisy in this sentiment is pretty easy to point out, because Trump himself now votes by mail in Florida. Somehow, he's convinced that this is perfectly fine for him (for some unfathomable reason) but is a nefarious plot when anyone else is allowed to vote exactly the same way he does. This actually puts Trump at odds with the Florida Republican Party, who have been extremely successful in urging their own voters to vote by mail. Turnout for Republicans is up in Florida precisely because the party is so good at doing so, in fact. And then, as Mitt Romney pointed out, there are places like Utah, which seem to have no problem electing plenty of Republicans through mail-in ballots.

Trump can't even keep his conspiracy theories straight when it comes to claiming Democrats are somehow cheating. In a recent special House election in California, Trump called for votes to be invalidated before the election was even held because he thought the Republican candidate was going to lose. In this case, though, Trump wasn't complaining about mail-in voting, he was complaining about in-person voting. All voters had been mailed a blank ballot (since California was in pandemic lockdown at the time), with a few drop-off and in-person sites available, in case some people had to vote in person (such as handicapped people who need help filling their ballots out, as well as others). A Republican mayor requested one of these in-person sites, which was added at the last minute. Trump went ballistic, even though this was the exact opposite of his complaints about mail-in voting. And guess what? The Republican won. This proves once again that mail-in voting simply does not have a partisan bias to it -- either party can do well in such an election, just as either party can do well in an in-person election.

But Trump's complaints about the California election were limited to tweeting about it a few days before the election happened. In Wisconsin, a different dynamic was at play for their recent primary election. There was a huge partisan battle about holding the election which was waged between the Democratic governor and the Republicans in the legislature and the state supreme court. The Republicans won this battle, and forced the state's voters to vote in person even though we were at the height of the coronavirus outbreak. The Republicans did so because they thought they'd get a partisan advantage by holding the election (rather than delaying it or holding it by mail), and there was one important office on the ballot -- a seat on the state supreme court. Republicans were absolutely convinced that they would win if they forced an in-person election. But it turns out they were wrong -- the Democratic candidate won handily, in what was supposed to be a razor-thin election.

There may be a lesson for Trump in what happened in Wisconsin. When one party is seen as trying to make it as hard (and as dangerous) as possible for people to vote, then at times the voters can react by turning out in droves against that party. It can be an enormous motivating factor for the opposition, in other words. Efforts to make voting hard can backfire in a big way because it spurs people to become even more determined to vote.

Trump might want to think about this before he threatens Michigan again. If he chooses to get into an all-out war with the state over holding mail-in elections, it's going to turn off a whole lot of voters who want to cast their ballots as safely as possible. And Michigan's last presidential election was indeed decided by a razor-thin margin. What will Michigan blue-collar workers think if Trump tries to withhold needed recovery funds from the state? More importantly, how many Democratic voters will become absolutely committed to casting their ballots this time around, even if they sat out the last presidential election?

That is the real danger for Trump. He could lose the presidency by attempting to tinker with one state's election. Of course, there are larger issues as well, such as how Republicans can argue with a straight face that the federal government should never interfere in the sanctity of allowing the states to run their elections as they see fit, while the leader of their party is attempting to do exactly that. Republicans should also be worried that mail-in voting might prove to be so wildly popular in states that haven't done it widely before that their voters start demanding this convenience in every election, pandemic or no pandemic. But while those are longer-term possible consequences, the one that will attract the most attention this year would be if Trump's ham-handed efforts to interfere in state elections backfire on him so spectacularly that he loses multiple battleground states as a direct result. Which would, as previously mentioned, be rather deliciously ironic.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


12 Comments on “Trump's War On Mail-In Voting Could Backfire”

  1. [1] 
    Kick wrote:

    CW: But the biggest danger for Trump isn't being ridiculed for such blatantly partisan contradictions, but rather that he might in fact motivate more people to vote against him and the Republican Party.

    You don't think the citizens of Michigan might not take too kindly to a POTUS threatening to withhold the federal funding that supports health care/Medicaid, education, transportation, etc. for Michigan voters, their families, and fellow Michiganders, do you?

    Fun fact: The chairperson of the RNC lives in Michigan (it's a Romney thing). I am almost certain she will encourage her fellow Republicans to ignore those applications for absentee ballots since Trump is against it. *shakes head*

    Reminds me of that time Republicans forced the voters in Wisconsin to vote in person during the thick of a pandemic.

    Remember how that turned out?

  2. [2] 
    Kick wrote:

    CW: Republicans were absolutely convinced that they would win if they forced an in-person election. But it turns out they were wrong -- the Democratic candidate won handily, in what was supposed to be a razor-thin election.

    So you do remember how that turned out, and this is -- once again -- what I get for not reading ahead before I post a comment. ;)

  3. [3] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Just think: Eight months from now Trump will be out of office and SDNY (and others) will be waiting in the wings. I am heartened that Joe Biden says he won't repeat Obama's disappointing decision to not prosecute his criminal predecessor.

  4. [4] 
    andygaus wrote:

    We just have to make sure there is still a postal service left in November to deliver the ballots.

  5. [5] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Trump threatening to starve the US Postal Service seems just as likely to enrage voters as opposing absentee balloting.

  6. [6] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Could you please make the NUMBERS on the comments bigger? I do everything on my cracked cellphone (ya really gotta want it,) and larger font size numbers on the comments would make the process easier.

    Also, where's Michale? Does he sometimes not comment on your posts because (especially recently) they have been so devastating of our fake-President?

  7. [7] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Don Harris wrote:
    Let's see. The theory is that people will be so angry at Trump for his stand against mail-in voting they will elect Biden?

    Is this Ghostbusters where we get to choose the form of our destroyer?

    Don, I DO agree with your 100,000 foot overall view that we must get the money out of politics to save our Constitutional Republic, period, full stop.

    But if you'll come down closer to the ground doesn't it matter that almost anyone who has ran for President in 2016 and 2020 (in both parties) would have handled Paris, the Iran deal and especially coronavirus better than Trump?

    I "get it" that you're a purist but until we get to our utopia it still matters which "big money candidate" wins. To put a pox on both their houses is useless at this point in our history. I betcha that 90,000 dead Americans would agree!

  8. [8] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Don, this is a quote from an Atlantic article reflecting on Trump.

    He convinced a good chunk of the country that he is a wildly successful businessman and knows more about campaign finance, the Islamic State, the courts, the visa system, trade, taxes, the debt, renewable energy, infrastructure, borders, and drones than anyone else.

    How can you say that it doesn't matter which "big money" candidate we elected in 2016. I betcha 90,000 dead Americans would beg to differ.

  9. [9] 
    Kick wrote:

    Don Harris

    The real irony here is the media "mailing it in" by trying to shift the focus to the symptoms of our problems with articles like this rather than doing their job covering the reality that both parties are corrupted by big money and informing citizens how they can fight back and demand a real choice.

    Nah. The real irony here is that a lazy-ass, candy-ass underachiever like you has spent years and years whining about somebody else who won't shill for your own epic failure at political activism while you yourself won't lift a finger or make even a tiny little move to start your own blog.

    It's quite obviously infinitely easier to do nothing whatsoever yourself while whining incessantly how somebody else "done you wrong." Your whiny little repetitive routine and victim card playing is just like Donald Trump... always blaming everyone else for your own inaction and obvious failure to act.

    Get Real.

    Get a real blog of your own, you lazy prat.

  10. [10] 
    Kick wrote:

    Don Harris

    If Biden says it that means he will do it. You can take that to the bank and deposit it.

    In the circular file with rest of the trash.

    Not exactly possible since you and your idea have that area occupied in its entirety.

  11. [11] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    And Don,how has "Get real" been working for you here and in other comments sections?

    I think you outta try some other, less strident approach to us non purists. It's not how hard one yells, for there's a billion yeller's out there. It's how effective, or persuasive you are.

  12. [12] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    I mean, look at Kick's comments immediately above. Engendering that kind of response ain't cutting it, Brother. You and Michale both really need to get out there with your own blogs. Competing in the marketplace of ideas will properly test the merits of your respective ideologies.

Comments for this article are closed.