After months of insisting that voting by mail was an inherently flawed process that would lead to massive fraud in the 2020 election, President Trump on Tuesday encouraged residents of the state of Florida to cast their ballots that way.
Whether you call it Vote by Mail or Absentee Voting, in Florida the election system is Safe and Secure, Tried and True. Florida’s Voting system has been cleaned up (we defeated Democrats attempts at change), so in Florida I encourage all to request a Ballot & Vote by Mail! #MAGA
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 4, 2020
The abrupt reversal comes as the coronavirus pandemic has worsened in Florida and Trump’s poll numbers have fallen in what is viewed as a must-win state for his reelection. More troubling for Republicans in the state, Democrats have far outpaced the GOP in terms of mail-in ballot requests in recent months. Trump’s own rhetoric criticizing mail-in voting is seen as helping dampen enthusiasm among his supporters for what health experts say is a safer means of participating in the 2020 election.
At a press briefing Tuesday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump, who has voted by mail in past elections, was referring to “a victory in the courts in Florida,” but gave no further details. In July the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a lower court’s order in a complex case involving the right of former prisoners to vote in Florida elections — a right that voters overwhelmingly approved in a referendum in 2018. The Republican-controlled state Legislature passed a bill requiring ex-felons to reimburse the state for unpaid fines and court fees before they could register to vote — effectively nullifying the provision, since even determining the amount they owe is virtually impossible in most counties. A lower court ruling backing the state’s position was allowed to stand by the Supreme Court.
Later in the day, Trump was asked to explain his tweet about mail-in voting in Florida.
“Florida has been working on this for years and they have a very good system of mail-in and that would be absentee or even beyond absentee,” Trump said at a White House briefing.
So far Florida is the only state where the president is encouraging residents to vote by mail. On Monday, Trump threatened legal action against the state of Nevada after its Legislature approved a bill that guarantees mail-in ballots will be sent to all registered voters.
“We’ll be suing in Nevada,” Trump said during a White House press briefing, “and that’s already been taken care of.”
He also said Monday that he had the authority to issue an executive order limiting mail-in ballots in the 2020 election.
“I have the right to do it,” Trump said during a White House press briefing. “We haven’t gotten there yet. We’ll see what happens.”
The U.S. Constitution does not grant the president such powers. Instead, the power to tailor elections falls to Congress and the states.
Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, which as of Tuesday afternoon had infected at least 4.7 million Americans, killing more than 156,000, requests for mail-in ballots have far exceeded the number of requests in past presidential election years.
McEnany began her briefing by pointing out that it was “Day 42 of the botched New York City primary, where still there is no election results in one congressional race, which the New York Times notes is due to the deluge of 400,000 mail-in ballots.”
But there is little evidence to support Trump’s claim that the practice results in widespread fraud. A few states conduct elections almost entirely by mail, and Trump himself and other members of his administration have voted by mail in recent elections.
McEnany said that Trump, who is now a legal resident of Florida, requested an absentee ballot.
“Absentee voting is different than mass mail-out voting,” she explained.
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