Photograph: Carlos Barría/Reuters
Donald Trump has continued to suggest that fear of contracting Covid-19 is not a good enough excuse not to appear at the polls, and that Americans should only be able to vote by mail under limited circumstances.
Absentee Ballots are fine. A person has to go through a process to get and use them. Mail-In Voting, on the other hand, will lead to the most corrupt Election is USA history. Bad things happen with Mail-Ins. Just look at Special Election in Patterson, N.J. 19% of Ballots a FRAUD!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2020
Trump is wrongfully conflating no-excuse vote by mail, a system where anyone can request a ballot, and universal mail-in voting, a system where all registered voters are mailed a ballot. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia allow anyone to request an absentee ballot, but just five have universal vote by mail.
While fraud is extremely rare in mail-in voting, the New Jersey case Trump referenced occurred in a local election held entirely by mail and was caught as ballots were being counted.
The president and his campaign have repeatedly tried to make the false distinction as part of an effort to explain why Trump and many other administration officials have voted by mail, even though they staunchly oppose the practice.
Trump has argued that it was acceptable for him to vote “absentee” in Florida in March because he was out of the state during the primary election, and could not appear to vote in person.
Pressed on Trump’s history of voting by mail during a Sunday interview on 60 Minutes, Justin Clark, a senior adviser to the president’s campaign said, “the president votes absentee. That’s different. If you are absent, you are ill, you’re outta state, you name it, there needs to be a mechanism whereby people can get their vote cast.”
That distinction is not accurate. Like 33 other states, Florida does not require an excuse to vote by mail. In Florida, all voters essentially go through the same process to request an absentee ballot, regardless of the reason they want to vote by mail. Florida itself describes its system as “vote-by-mail” and does not use the term “absentee” on the state website explaining the process.
In Florida, whether you want to call it vote-by-mail or whether you want to vote absentee, you must request to receive the ballot
“In Florida, we refer to this method as vote-by-mail,” said Mark Ard, a spokesman for Florida’s secretary of state, Laurel Lee.
“Florida changed the word absentee in our law to say vote by mail. There’s no question that in Florida vote by mail is an absentee or synonymous,” said Paul Lux, the supervisor of elections in Okaloosa county, Florida. “The envelopes are the same, the ballots are the same, everything is identical whether you’re doing absentee voting or voting by mail.”
He added: “In Florida, whether you want to call it vote-by-mail or whether you want to vote absentee, you must request to receive the ballot.”
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.
The president’s statement comes amid a roiling debate across the country about how easy it should be to vote by mail amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which the president has repeatedly downplayed. Sixteen states require an excuse to vote by mail, and there is a push to make concern over contracting Covid-19 an acceptable excuse.
Some states, such as New York and Kentucky, have been willing to waive their excuse requirement for the primary, while other states, like Texas, have refused to. In Kentucky, the state saw record turnout after it waived its requirement to provide an excuse to vote by mail during the primary.
It’s not yet clear whether Kentucky and the other states that usually require an excuse to vote by mail will be willing to make similar accommodations for the November general election.
“Mr President: you still have no idea what you are talking about,” tweeted Amber McReynolds, a former election official in Denver who is now the chief executive of the National Vote at Home Institute.
“It would make sense for you and your advisors to tour an election office or seek expert advice from those of us that have actually run an election.”