“REQUEST YOUR ABSENTEE BALLOT TODAY,” reads a mailer sent to North Carolina Republicans earlier this week by the North Carolina Trump Victory campaign, the Trump campaign’s joint field operation with the Republican National Committee in the state. The mailer, part of a push to contact more than three million voters in the state, calls voting by mail “easy and secure,” and urges recipients to use the “Official Republican Party Absentee Ballot Application to safely and securely request your ballot.”
“All North Carolina voters are eligible to vote absentee—no matter the reason,” states the mailer, which contains step-by-step instructions for applying for an absentee ballot. “Your fellow conservatives are counting on your vote. Do not wait any longer.”
It sounds off-brand for a campaign whose candidate has repeatedly derided voting by mail as corruption in waiting. In fact, the mailing appears to directly contradict the president’s consistent public statements since the rise of the coronavirus pandemic, in which he has baselessly called voting by mail insufficiently secure. Trump has threatened to withhold federal funds from states that send absentee ballots or ballot applications to all registered voters, and in an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace that aired on Sunday, he threatened not to accept the results of the election if mail-in ballot expansion in states like Nevada and Michigan goes ahead as planned.
“I’m not a good loser. I don’t like to lose. I don’t lose too often. I don’t like to lose,” Trump said in that interview. “You don’t know until you see. It depends. I think mail-in voting is going to rig the election, I really do.”
The mailer appears to be part of a larger push by state-level Republicans to ensure that the president’s distrust of mail-in ballots doesn’t discourage his own voters from casting those ballots. Newly minted Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said last week that organization on the ground will be key—particularly when it comes to voter outreach.
“We have a better team, better voter information, a better ground game, better fundraising, and most importantly, a better candidate with a better record,” Stepien said in a statement after taking the reins. “If we win more days than Joe Biden wins, President Trump will be re-elected.”
Most of Trump’s claims regarding absentee voting—that mail-in voting favors Democrats, that ballots submitted by mail are rife with fraud, and that such ballots would be easy for a foreign government to forge—have been thoroughly debunked, and the president himself has voted absentee numerous times.
The White House has described Trump’s own absentee voting as fundamentally different than vote-by-mail, with press secretary Kayleigh McEnany—who has herself voted absentee 11 times in the past decade—telling reporters in May that the president supports mail-in voting “when you have a reason that you are unable to be present.”
That argument, experts in election security said, amounts to a distinction without a difference.
“This is a once-in-a-century event, so we don’t have a lot of good models for it,” said Professor Larry Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown Law Center. “But it seems to me it’s feasible: it’s not high technology, it’s relatively secure, and it doesn’t disenfranchise everybody—everybody has the same equal opportunity to vote.”
Public health experts told The Daily Beast that voting by mail is, just as the Trump Victory mailer promises, both easy and secure—and has the added benefit of not putting voters at risk of contracting COVID-19 while exercising their constitutional rights.
“From a public health perspective, anything that reduces the amount of time that people have to spend together particularly indoors and in close contact would be valuable in preventing COVID-19 transmission,” said Dr. Timothy Brewer, a professor of epidemiology at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health and of Medicine.
At least 16 states have expanded access to absentee voting due to the coronavirus pandemic, and nine states currently require voters to provide a non-pandemic-related excuse to obtain a mail-in ballot. Of those nine states, only Texas is considered potentially competitive this election cycle.
The Trump campaign said that apparent contradiction between the president’s campaign calling voting by mail “easy and secure” and the president himself saying it will “lead to the most CORRUPT ELECTION in our Nation’s History” is, in fact, no contradiction at all.
“If a voter can’t make it to the polls, they should request an absentee ballot,” said Matthew Morgan, the campaign’s general counsel. “But as President Trump has rightly said, universal vote by mail is inherently less secure than voting in person.”