Citizens throughout the nation are counting on using mail ballots to vote in November without placing their lives at risk. President Donald Trump is determined to prevent them from doing so, if they live in heavily Democratic metropolitan areas, that is. Trump claims that allowing widespread mail balloting is an invitation to massive and systematic fraud, saying: “What they're doing is using COVID to steal an election. They're using COVID to defraud the American people.”
But when a judge ordered Trump’s campaign to come up with evidence for the president’s fraud claims, the campaign produced absolutely nothing. Still, there’s ample evidence that if Trump gets his way, hundreds of thousands of duly registered voters will not be able to vote, or will have their ballots go uncounted—more than enough to sway the outcome of a close election.
On June 29, the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit demanding the voiding of the efforts of Pennsylvania’s state officials to facilitate mail voting during the pandemic, pursuant to a recently enacted law. Among other things, Pennsylvania is allowing the use of ballot drop boxes, so voters can avoid returning ballots through the mails. In light of revelations that Trump’s recently installed Postmaster General (and fundraiser), Louis DeJoy, deliberately engineered new inefficiencies and delays at the Postal Service (particularly in Philadelphia), the need for drop boxes is even more clear. But that’s only made the Trump campaign more determined to prevent their use.
According to the Trump campaign’s complaint, Pennsylvania voting officials “have sacrificed the sanctity of in-person voting at the altar of unmonitored and unsecured mail-in voting and have exponentially enhanced the threat that fraudulent or otherwise ineligible ballots will be cast and counted in the upcoming General Election.” Trump’s complaint uses the word “fraud” no fewer than 51 times.
Given the centrality of Trump’s fraud claims, on Aug. 13 the Pittsburgh federal judge hearing the case, Nicholas Ranjan (a Trump appointee), ordered the campaign to provide any and all evidence supporting its allegations “concerning potential or actual fraud or voter misconduct,” including “from the use of drop boxes, absentee ballots, or vote-by-mail.”
When the Daily Beast asked the Trump campaign for a copy of the materials it produced, the campaign declined to share one. It later became clear why, when the campaign’s interrogatory responses were disclosed. The filings contained virtually no evidence of mail-in or drop-box ballot fraud, let alone fraud of a nature and scale remotely sufficient to change the outcome of a statewide election.
Instead, the document contained a grab bag of examples of campaign irregularities, errors and misconduct, many taken from newspaper articles, and none substantiating the massive mail voting fraud claims the campaign made in its complaint. Indeed, the campaign was reduced to making the absurd contention that it does “not need to demonstrate any evidence of fraud to prove” its case, even though the campaign’s complaint was laced with, and grounded on, claims of a grave risk of fraud.
Of course, it’s nothing new for Trump and his associates to make claims without evidence. Apart from the president’s now regular rants about “rigging” the upcoming election, Attorney General William Barr has repeatedly contended that “if you have wholesale mail-in voting, it substantially increases the risk of fraud." Barr has even joined Trump in asserting that foreign nations are poised to engage in massive counterfeiting of mail in ballots to sway the outcome of the election. But when asked if he had any evidence whatsoever to support his claims, Barr has repeatedly admitted, most recently before Congress, that he has none, and instead is relying entirely on what he calls "common sense.”
A senior official of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence recently contradicted Barr, stating that the intelligence community has no evidence that foreign powers intend to manipulate mail-in ballots. In fact, as election experts have demonstrated, Barr’s claim that mail ballots are a likely source for massive, systematic fraud—let alone a foreign power’s scheme to sway an election—is entirely contrary to common sense.
A database maintained by the conservative Heritage Foundation indicates that, over a period of nine years, there were all of 15 cases of voter fraud in the five states that employ universal mail-in voting; furthermore, as election expert Rick Hasen has explained, it would likely require thousands of counterfeit or otherwise fraudulent ballots to sway the outcome of a state’s election, something that would be virtually impossible to carry off. A senior FBI official similarly recently stated that “[i]t's extraordinarily difficult to change a federal election outcome through [coordinated] fraud alone.”
Trump lost a round when the Pennsylvania federal court case was temporarily stayed by the judge hearing it in favor of allowing the Pennsylvania law issues in the case to first be addressed by state courts; but it will likely be revised. In the meantime, the Trump campaign can be expected to continue to peddle its bogus fraud claims in every court in which it can be heard. But there is now no doubt that the Trump challenges to mail voting are grounded on phantom, and indeed, fantastically fraudulent, claims of fraud.
But there’s nothing speculative about the consequences of allowing Trump to get away with his scheme to suppress and limit mail voting. If Trump succeeds, thousands of eligible voters will be prevented from casting their votes, or will complete ballots that are not counted. The Washington Post reported that more than 534,000 mail ballots went uncounted during the recent primaries, many in battleground states, including because signatures were rejected or ballots were received past the deadlines. The vast majority of these ballots were cast by duly registered citizens who had every right to vote.
At the end of the day, of course, the Trump campaign has no actual interest in preventing voter fraud; rather, the president wants to make it even more difficult for people who reasonably fear going to crowded polling places in heavily Democratic metropolitan areas from effectively voting by mail, and thereby from voting at all. That is a classic voter disenfranchisement scheme, and it is directly at odds with the principles of democracy.