Trump’s Enablers Add to His Lies About Vote-By-Mail

Voter suppression advocates toss gas on the fire with big numbers taken out of context.

Joe Biden is sounding the alarm.

“Mark my words, I think [Trump] is gonna try to kick back the election somehow, come up with some rationale why it can’t be held,” Biden said during a Q&A at a virtual fundraising event.

He noted Trump’s refusal to fund the U.S. Postal Service, which is struggling under the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic, as lawmakers across the country push for mail-in voting to keep the virus from spreading.

“Now what in God’s name is that about, other than trying to let the word out that he’s going to do all he can to make it very hard for people to vote?” Biden asked. “That’s the only way he thinks he can possibly win.”

After the debacle in Wisconsin, many states are pursing an expansion of mail-in voting. But Trump has led the charge against that option by spouting a whole series of lies. Jane Timm went through them one by one and fact-checked them all as false. Here’s the bottom line.

Richard Hasen, an election law expert and a professor at the University of California, Irvine, pointed to an exhaustive News21 review of voter fraud between 2000 and 2012, which found just 491 incidents of alleged absentee voter fraud among more than a decade of elections and 146 million registered voters.

“No means of voting is perfect, but the benefits of vote-by-mail — particularly during a pandemic — greatly exceed the risks of fraud associated with it,” he told NBC News.

But that isn’t likely to stop the president’s enablers. For example, Mark Hemingway has written a piece with this explosive title: “28 Million Mail-In Ballots Went Missing in Last Four Elections.”

Between 2012 and 2018, 28.3 million mail-in ballots remain unaccounted for, according to data from the federal Election Assistance Commission. The missing ballots amount to nearly one in five of all absentee ballots and ballots mailed to voters residing in states that do elections exclusively by mail.

In order to heighten the angst, Hemingway goes on to point out that “in 2016 Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by garnering over 2.8 million more votes than Donald Trump. But nearly 6 million unaccounted mail-in ballots were never counted in 2016.”

To his credit, Hemingway does note in the third paragraph that “there is no evidence that the millions of missing ballots were used fraudulently.” Nevertheless, he says that “the sheer volume of them raises serious doubts about election security.”

So what is Hemingway talking about when he refers to these 28 million missing mail-in ballots? The first thing to note is that he got his information from a report published by the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a group that claims that voter fraud is rampant in the U.S. and that large numbers of ineligible aliens are casting ballots. The president of PILF—J. Christian Adams—was appointed to serve on Trump’s voter fraud commission and one of their board members is Hans von Spakovsky, who has been advocating for voter suppression since he fought against motor-voter provisions in 1997.

The report on these so-called “missing ballots” makes it difficult to follow their numbers, but they suggest that over 40 million mail-in ballots are sent out every election. In looking at four elections (2012, 2014, 2016, and 2018), that would total over 160 million ballots, of which 28 million (or roughly 17.5 percent) went missing. They note that some never reached the intended targets (perhaps because of outdated addresses), some were never returned (ie, people chose not to vote), and some were rejected—usually due to signature errors.

It is interesting that PILF included “rejected” ballots among those they suggested are “missing.” Checking signature against voter registrations is one of the security measures utilized with vote-by-mail. While maintaining accurate addresses will always be a challenge for mailed ballots, the fact that some people chose not to take the opportunity to vote is hardly a problem, especially given that voter turnout has hovered around 50-60 percent in recent presidential elections (lower in midterms). So overall, if 82.5 percent of mailed ballots are returned as valid, that demonstrates pretty astounding success.

Of course, the whole point of reports like this is to scare people with numbers like 28 million “missing” ballots without any context whatsoever. Given what we’ve seen from Trump, it probably won’t be long before he adds to these lies and starts talking about 28 million people casting fraudulent mail-in ballots as a reason to either force people to vote in person during a pandemic, or, as Biden has warned, as an excuse to delay the election.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.