WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump, reeling from a weekend rally that failed to give his reelection campaign a jolt of energy, suggested Monday that if he loses in November, forged mail-in ballots could be partly to blame.
In a tweet, the president argued that vote-by-mail won’t be necessary during the coronavirus pandemic because “we voted during World War One and World War Two with no problem.”
Absentee voting, which began during the Civil War, is becoming increasingly common in the U.S., and Trump is trying to make it a partisan issue. As the coronavirus pandemic makes large gatherings risky, many states have broadened access to absentee ballots in an effort to reduce exposure through in-person voting.
In a separate tweet, Trump claimed that “millions of mail-in ballots will be printed by foreign countries” to affect the election.
But elections experts say that it would be prohibitively difficult and expensive to attempt to influence an election that way.
To successfully forge mail-in ballots, a foreign power would need to have a list of absentee voters in a state and know who had already voted. It would have to be able to replicate the size, weight and design of the ballots and envelopes in each county, as well as key details like precinct and voter ID numbers and the local races on each ballot. It would have to match the forged signature on the envelope to the one on file, and mail them locally to ensure a proper postmark, said Matthew Weil, director of the elections project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
If even a few dozen ballots showed up that were slightly off — much less a few million — Weil said they would be set aside and an investigation conducted.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge criticized Trump’s tweets, calling them “dangerous rhetoric.”
“Scaring his own voters away from a proven method that dates back to the Civil War will have a toll on Republicans up and down the ballot,” said Ridge, a Republican who is co-chairing VoteSafe, a bipartisan group promoting vote-by-mail.
Although Trump’s tweets focus on almost nonexistent problems, voting by mail does increase the possibility that the outcome of the election will be murky for days if not weeks after Nov. 3. Postal service delays could slow the announcement of results, and a close race could inspire either Trump or rival Joe Biden to challenge the outcome in court.
Vote-by-mail will already be widely used in November, including six Western states that will hold their elections entirely by mail. Only four states currently won’t allow no-excuse absentee voting during the pandemic, and experts predict the practice will reach a historic high.
Already, the demand for vote-by-mail has flooded local elections offices, which have scrambled to keep up with demand. In primaries in states like New York and Georgia, voters who requested absentee ballots did not receive them in time for the election.
Trump’s attacks came as he lags Biden in polls both nationally and in battleground states. On Saturday, his first rally in three months drew about 6,200 people in an arena that holds 19,000. And the weekend was overshadowed by the messy effort to oust the U.S. attorney in New York City.
Attorney General William Barr made a similar claim about foreign countries printing counterfeit ballots — without offering any evidence to support it — in an interview with The New York Times in early June.
On Sunday, Barr repeated the claim that absentee ballots are open to fraud in an interview with Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”
“When government, state governments, start adopting these practices like mail-in ballots that open the floodgates of potential fraud, then people’s confidence in the outcome of the election is going to be undermined,” he said. “And that could take the country to a very dark place, if we lose confidence in the outcomes of our elections.”
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