WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Monday morning became the latest in a procession of Republicans to say making it easier for more people to vote would hurt his party politically.
In an interview on “Fox & Friends,” Trump referenced proposals from Democrats in the coronavirus stimulus negotiations that would have vastly increased funding for absentee and vote-by-mail options. The final package included $400 million for the effort, which was far less than what Democrats had sought.
“The things they had in there were crazy,” Trump said. “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 didn’t expand on the thought. But he clearly linked high turnout to Republicans losing elections. The most generous reading of his comment is that he was speculating on large-scale voter fraud from the easier vote-by-mail options; Trump has in the past baselessly speculated about millions of fraudulent votes helping Democrats in the 2016 election. The more nefarious reading would be that allowing more people to participate in the process legally would hurt his party because there are more Democratic-leaning voters in the country.
That’s apparently true, but you typically don’t see Republicans expressing the sentiment so directly. Generally, they’ll connect tighter voting rules such as Voter ID to protecting the integrity of the process.
On several occasions in recent years, though, Republicans have arguably gone further than that, as Trump just did.
In 2012, then-Pennsylvania state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R, hailed the passage of Voter ID in his state and suggested it would be a boon to the GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.
“Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: Done,” Turzai said while recounting his state party’s accomplishments.
After Romney lost the state, the state’s Republican Party chairman still said Voter ID helped.
“We probably had a better election,” the chairman, Robert Gleason, said. “Think about this: We cut [Barack] Obama by 5 percent, which was big. A lot of people lost sight of that. He beat [John] McCain by 10 percent; he only beat Romney by 5 percent. And I think that probably photo ID helped a bit in that.”
Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., offered similar comments during the 2016 presidential election.
“I think Hillary Clinton is about the weakest candidate the Democrats have ever put up,” Grothman said, adding: “And now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well.”
Grothman elaborated that he was referring to combating voter fraud rather than suggesting requiring ID would suppress Democratic votes in the state. “I think we believe that, insofar as there are inappropriate things, people who vote inappropriately are more likely to vote Democrat,” he said.
This is an idea Trump has referred to frequently, but there is scant evidence of actual large-scale voter fraud in this country, including in vote-by-mail options.
But Trump isn’t even the only high-ranking national Republican during the 2020 election to reference the idea that higher turnout would hamper the party’s chances. Last year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., dismissed Democrats’ proposal to make Election Day a federal holiday, suggesting it was intended to help them win elections – apparently by increasing turnout.
“This is the Democrat plan to restore democracy?” McConnell said with a laugh. “A power grab that’s smelling more and more like exactly what it is.”
McConnell at the time referred to the underlying bill as the “Democrat Politician Protection Act.”
Surveys have indeed shown higher turnout probably would benefit Democrats, given many more nonvoters lean toward that party than they do the GOP. A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center showed that among people who weren’t registered to vote or didn’t plan to vote in that year’s midterm election, 51 percent favored the Democratic Party, while just 30 percent favored the Republican Party. Young people, in particular, tend to be liberal but vote at much lower rates than do more conservative, older voters.
Democrats for years sought to make it easier to vote, including by expanding early voting and vote-by-mail options, and have accused Republicans of suppressing votes by pushing Voter ID and purging voter rolls. Polls have shown people generally favor the concept of Voter ID and believe fraud is relatively prevalent, but this belief has not been proved in any real measure.
Trump tasked then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach with leading a voter fraud commission in 2017, but the effort turned up only a handful of alleged cases before it was disbanded in January 2018. A Democrat who served on the panel called it “the most bizarre thing I’ve ever been a part of.”