- President Donald Trump has repeatedly hit back against calls to expand vote-by-mail access, saying the process is corrupt with voter fraud and suggesting it favors Democrats.
- However, studies show that there is no widespread voter fraud issue in the U.S. In fact, a 2017 study by the Brennan Center for Justice said in the rate of voter fraud in the U.S. was somewhere between 0.00004% to 0.0009%.
- Meanwhile, Barack and Michelle Obama both publically backed expanding vote-by-mail access over the weekend, with the former president criticizing Wisconsin for holding in-person voting and encouraging the public to check the facts behind voting by mail.
Trump Speaks Out Against Expanding Vote-By-Mail
The former president and first lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, have thrust their support behind voting-by-mail during the coronavirus pandemic as the nationwide conversation about fair, safe, and accessible voting grows.
The coronavirus outbreaks have forced some states under stay-at-home orders to postpone primary elections. Because of this, several politicians and celebrities have been ramping up calls for expanded access to voting by mail.
However, President Donald Trump has been a vocal opponent against the move. Instead, he has continued to push for in-person-voting during the pandemic, despite the fact that doing so contradicts social distancing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and his own coronavirus task force’s recommendations against gatherings of more than 10.
In fact, the CDC specifically recommends states “encourage mail-in methods of voting if allowed in the jurisdiction” given the coronavirus threat.
At a press briefing last Tuesday, the president said, “Mail ballots — they cheat. OK? People cheat. Mail ballots are a very dangerous thing for this country because they’re cheaters.”
“The mail ballots are corrupt in my opinion, and they collect them, and they get people to go in and sign them, and then there are forgeries in many cases. It’s a horrible thing.”
The president has continued to use that same rhetoric on social media and has also suggested that the process would be harmful for Republicans.
Last month, he told Fox News that he opposed funding for mail-in voting as part of the stimulus bill because, “They had things, levels of voting, that if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
Trump on March 30 on why he opposed funding for mail-in voting as part of a coronavirus stimulus bill: “They have things, levels of voting, that if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” pic.twitter.com/kpDQX3zxY8— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 8, 2020
Some have viewed Trump’s comments as hypocritical since Trump himself cast an absentee ballot by mail in last month’s Florida Republican primary. He also voted absentee in the 2018 midterms as well. When asked about this contradiction in his messaging, he said it was fine “because I’m allowed to” vote by mail while living outside the state of Florida. At the time, he also said, “I think if you vote, you should go.”
Other prominent members of the Trump administration have also repeatedly voted absentee with mail-in ballots, according to The New York Times, including Vice President Mike Pence.
Debunking Trump’s Voter Fraud Claims
The bigger issue here, as many news outlets have since pointed out, is that Trump’s claims about voter fraud are false. Voting fraud in the U.S. is actually pretty rare.
Several studies have confirmed that there is no widespread voter fraud issue in the country and millions of Americans vote-by-mail every year without problems.
According to the Associated Press, it is true that some election studies have shown a slightly higher incidence of mail-in voting fraud compared with in-person voting, but the overall risk is extremely low. In fact, a 2017 study by the Brennan Center for Justice said in the rate of voter fraud in the U.S. was somewhere between 0.00004% to 0.0009% off all votes.
Ari Berman, a leading expert on voting rights told CNN. “This is a flat-out lie from the President.”
“We have tons of data on the prevalence of voter fraud in this country, and it’s a very small problem, whether you vote in-person or by mail. In Democratic-controlled states like Oregon and Republican-controlled states like Utah, there has been no evidence of significant voter fraud.”
Something important to note is that Trump has peddled theories about voter fraud before. He even set up a commission to investigate the issue, but the panel disbanded in 2018 without ever finding evidence to support his claims that millions of people voted illegally in 2016, costing him the popular vote.
Critics of Trump’s rhetoric have also pointed out that though instances are rare, one of the most serious and credible allegations of absentee ballot fraud in decades was actually designed to help a Republican.
During the 2018 race for North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District, a Republican operative was charged with election fraud after rounding up absentee ballots for the Republican candidate, Mark Harris. State election officials refused to certify the results and held a redo election in 2019.
However, experts also use this case as an example that fraud big enough to sway at election outcome will likely be detected.
Despite Trump’s claims, several Republican leaders across the country have been pushing voters to cast ballots by mail given the current health concerns. Among them are the Republican governors or secretaries of state in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Ohio, New Hampshire, and Iowa.
Obama’s Back Vote-By-Mail Expansions
The Obamas have stayed mostly on the sidelines during the 2020 election process so far, but now they’ve spoken out in support of expanding vote-by-mail access. On Friday, former President Obama weighed in on the issue while criticizing Wisconson’s decision to hold in-person voting.
“No one should be forced to choose between their right to vote and their right to stay healthy like the debacle in Wisconsin this week,” he tweeted, sharing a New York Times article.
Public health experts have warned that in-person voting during the pandemic puts voters and poll workers at risk. Last week, Wisconsin became a state at the front of the issue when it held its election amid a stay-at-home order issued by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
Evers made a last-minute attempt to postpone the election that was blocked by courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Reports and images on social media later showed voters waiting in long lines at the few open polling locations. By Friday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services said it was tracking the potential spread of the coronavirus during the election, but cases that were contracted as a result of in-person voting might not be known for some time.
“Everyone should have the right to vote safely, and we have the power to make that happen. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue,” Obama added in another tweet.
“Let’s not use the tragedy of a pandemic to compromise our democracy. Check the facts of vote by mail,” he continued, sharing a link to a New York Times story about debunking Trump’s claims that the process favors Democrats.
Michelle Obama and her organization, When We All Vote, also announced that they will back legislation aimed at expanding vote-by-mail options, online voter registration, and early voting. She launched the organization in 2018, with co-chairs Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monáe, Chris Paul, Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw.
“There is nothing partisan about striving to live up to the promise of our country; making the democracy we all cherish more accessible; and protecting our neighbors, friends and loved ones as they participate in this cornerstone of American life,” she said in a statement.
The issue of voter access brought forth during the pandemic has also inspired change in other states. In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northan announced that he signed a series of new measures into law aimed at expanding voter access.
The new legislation will establish Election Day as a holiday and expands early voting to be allowed 45 days before an election without a stated reason. It also removes the requirement that voters show ID before casting a ballot
“Voting is a fundamental right, and these new laws strengthen our democracy by making it easier to cast a ballot, not harder,” Northam said in a statement. “No matter who you are or where you live in Virginia, your voice deserves to be heard. I’m proud to sign these bills into law.”
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The New York Times) (CNN)
Senate Democrats To Introduce Voting Rights Bill This Week
Republicans are expected to block the legislation, but Democratic leaders hope the GOP’s unified opposition will lay the groundwork to justify getting rid of the filibuster.
Voting Bill Set for Floor
Senate Democrats are officially set to advance their voting rights bill this week, with a procedural vote to start debate on the legislation scheduled for Tuesday.
The move comes as an increasing number of Democrats and progressive activists have begun to embrace a more watered-down version of the bill proposed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), the sole Democrat who opposed the initial proposal on the grounds that it was too partisan.
While Democrats have spent the weekend hashing out the final details of compromise on Manchin’s bill, which he has touted as a more bipartisan compromise, Senate Republicans have still broadly rejected it.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who previously opposed the initial For the People Act as too far-reaching, called Manchin’s alternative proposal “equally unacceptable” and predicted that no members of his party will vote in favor.
The legislation is all but guaranteed to fail in the chamber, where it will require all 50 Democrats and at least 10 Republicans to overcome the filibuster.
However, bringing the bill to the floor still has major utility for Democrats because it will lay the groundwork for the party to justify scrapping the filibuster entirely.
Pathway for Filibuster Reform
Specifically, if Manchin agrees to some form of the bill which Republicans then filibuster, Democrats can say they had the to votes to pass the legislation if the filibuster were removed.
That, in turn, would bolster the Democratic argument that bipartisanship cannot be a precondition to taking actions to secure our democracy if it relies on reaching common ground with a party that they believe is increasingly and transparently committed to undermining democracy.
It would also give more ground to the Democratic claim that the GOP is abusing existing Senate rules to block policy changes that have gained wide public support following the Jan. 6 insurrection and amid the growing efforts by Republican governors and legislatures to restrict voting access in their states.
As a result, if Republicans block the legislation along party lines, Democratic leaders hope that could change objections to scrapping the filibuster voiced privately by some members and publicly by Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.).
This is especially true for Tuesday’s planned vote, because it is just a vote to proceed to debate, meaning that if Republicans filibuster, they will be preventing the Senate from even debating any efforts to protect democracy, including Manchin’s plan which he crafted specifically to reach a compromise with the GOP.
Whether a full party rejection would be enough to move the needle for Manchin and the other Democrats remains to be seen. Any successful overhaul of the contentious Senate rule would not only be incredibly significant for President Joe Biden’s agenda, but also for the precedent it could set.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Reuters) (USA Today)
McConnell Says He Would Block a Biden SCOTUS Nominee in 2024
The Senate Minority Leader also refused to say whether or not he would block a hypothetical nominee in 2023 if his party overtakes the chamber’s slim majority in the midterm elections.
McConnell Doubles Down
During an interview with conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) threatened to block a hypothetical Supreme Court nominee from President Joe Biden in 2024 if Republicans took control of the Senate.
“I think in the middle of a presidential election, if you have a Senate of the opposite party of the president, you have to go back to the 1880s to find the last time a vacancy was filled,” he said. “So I think it’s highly unlikely. In fact, no, I don’t think either party if it controlled, if it were different from the president, would confirm a Supreme Court nominee in the middle of an election.”
McConnell’s remarks do not come as a surprise as they are in line with his past refusal to consider former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the court in February 2016 on the grounds that it was too close to the presidential election.
The then-majority leader received a ton of backlash for his efforts, especially after he forced through Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation just eight days before the 2020 election. At the time, McConnell argued the two situations were different because the Senate and the president were from the same party — a claim he reiterated in the interview.
McConnell also implied he may take that stance even further in comments to Hewitt, who asked if he would block the appointment of a Supreme Court justice if a seat were to be vacated at the end of 2023 about 18 months before the next inauguration — a precedent set by the appointment of Anthony Kennedy.
“Well, we’d have to wait and see what happens,” McConnell responded.
Many Democrats immediately condemned McConnell’s remarks, including progressive leaders who renewed their calls to expand the court.
“Mitch McConnell is already foreshadowing that he’ll steal a 3rd Supreme Court seat if he gets the chance. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again. We need to expand the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Ma.).
Some also called on Justice Stephen Breyer, the oldest SCOTUS judge, to retire.
“If Breyer refuses to retire, he’s not making some noble statement about the judiciary. He is saying he wants Mitch McConnell to handpick his replacement,” said Robert Cruickshank, campaign director for Demand Progress.
Others, however, argued that the response McConnell’s remarks elicited was exactly what he was hoping to see and said his timing was calculated.
The minority leader’s comments come as the calls for Breyer to step down have recently grown while the current Supreme Court term draws near, a time when justices often will announce their retirement.
On Sunday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was asked if she thought Breyer should leave the bench while Democrats still controlled the Senate. She responded that she was “inclined to say yes.”
With his latest public statement, McConnell’s aims are twofold here: he hopes to broaden divisions in the Democratic Party between progressives and more traditional liberals, who are more hesitant to rush Breyer to retire or expand the court, while simultaneously working to unite a fractured Republican base and encourage them to turn out in the midterm elections.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (The Hill)
Gov. Abbott Says Texas Will Build Border Wall With Mexico
The announcement follows months of growing tension between the Texas governor and President Biden over immigration policies.
Texas Border Wall
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced during a press conference Thursday that the state would build a border wall with Mexico, extending the signature campaign promise of former President Donald Trump.
Abbott provided very few details for the border wall plans, and it is unclear if he has the authority to build it.
While some of the land is state-owned, much of it belongs to the federal government or falls on private property.
Even if the state were able to build on federal ground, private landowners who fought the Trump administration’s attempts to take their land through eminent domain would still remain an obstacle for any renewed efforts.
During his term, Trump built over 450 miles of new wall, but most of it covered areas where deteriorating barriers already existed, and thus had previously been approved for the federal project.
The majority of the construction also took place in Arizona, meaning Abbott would have much ground to cover. It is also unclear how the governor plans to pay for the wall.
Trump had repeatedly said Mexico would fund the wall, but that promise remained unfulfilled, and the president instead redirected billions of taxpayer dollars from Defense Department reserves.
While Abbott did say he would announce more details about the wall next week, his plan was condemned as ill-planned by immigration activists, who also threatened legal challenges.
“There is no substantive plan,” said Edna Yang, the co-executive director of the Texas-based immigration legal aid and advocacy group American Gateways. “It’s not going to make any border community or county safer.”
Abbott’s announcement comes amid escalating tensions between the governor and the administration of President Joe Biden.
Biden issued a proclamation that stopped border wall construction on his first day of office, and has since undone multiple Trump-era immigration policies. Abbott, for his part, has blamed Biden’s rollback of Trump’s rules for the influx of migrants at the border in recent months.
Two weeks ago, the governor deployed over 1,000 National Guard members and troopers from the Texas Department of Public Safety to the border as part of an initiative launched in March to ramp up border security dubbed Operation Lone Star.
Last week, Abbott issued a disaster declaration which, among other measures, directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to strip the state licenses of all shelters that house migrant children and have contracts with the federal government.
The move, which federal officials have already threatened to take legal action against, could effectively force the 52 state-licensed shelters housing around 8,600 children to move the minors elsewhere.
During Thursday’s press conference, Abbott also outlined a variety of other border initiatives, including appropriating $1 billion for border security, creating a task force on border security, and increasing arrests for migrants who enter the country illegally.
“While securing the border is the federal government’s responsibility, Texas will not sit idly by as this crisis grows,” he said. “Our efforts will only be effective if we work together to secure the border, make criminal arrests, protect landowners, rid our communities of dangerous drugs and provide Texans with the support they need and deserve.”