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Six months out, mail-in ballots for this election are the line in the sand for Trump

Attorney Scott Pilutik wrestles with the news of the day, from a lawyerly perspective…

[Regarding this story: ‘DOA’: That’s what Trump says about House Democrats’ coronavirus relief package]

Apparently mail-in ballots are the line in the sand for Trump.

Only yesterday Jared Kushner (as if his pre-clearance was necessary) was leaving up in the air whether there would even be an election in November given the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. Wouldn’t a mail-in ballot regulation across all states go a long to way to resolving some of that uncertainty?


When Wisconsin residents were forced to the polls by the courts a month ago, more than 30 voters contracted the virus that same day, including a few poll workers.

Trump has tried to make a distinction between mail-in ballots (susceptible to fraud) and absentee ballots (perfectly fine) but in practice they’re the same exact thing. There’s a difference between mail-in ballots, as that term is understood to mean everyone can participate and absentee ballots needing an excuse (e.g., disability), but some states allow “absentee ballots” without an excuse, which effectively renders them mail-in ballots.

In truth, mail-in/absentee ballots are nominally more susceptible to fraud than in-person voting, the latter which has been the primary focus of Republican-led Voter ID laws. But the energy and coordination necessary to commit absentee-ballot fraud far outweigh any hoped-for returns.

North Carolina recently had to re-run an election because a Republican operative (Leslie McCrae Dowless) had been personally visiting recipients (with the help of volunteers), collecting their unsigned absentee ballots, and filling them out and signing them himself. Dowless’ operation doesn’t scale up, and he got caught and is facing a lengthy prison term.

This administration doesn’t know what’s going to happen with this virus on a day-to-day basis, yet it’s simultaneously taking no action to permit Americans to vote safely six months from now, when many health officials suggest the virus could get worse.

Of course, we know why Trump and Republicans don’t want mail-in balloting, and it has nothing to do with fraud. More people vote if you permit mail-in balloting and Republicans do worse in elections with larger turnouts. Trump may be an idiot but he understands numbers.

But the issue itself is non-partisan. Mail-in or absentee ballots favor neither party, on their face, nor in practice (see this 538 article). Mail-in and absentee ballots have not favored either party, historically.

What Trump is really tipping his hand to is not only fear of increased turnout but that mail-in ballots undermine the many ways the Trump campaign and its allies planned on suppressing the vote. Recall in 2016 his calls to “get everybody to go out and watch” the polls in cities like Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Chicago, where “horrendous things are happening.” Now that he’s in power, lots of that and so much more is planned.

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