Transparent Hypocrisy on Mail-in Voting

Hypocrisy, lies, and dangerous rhetoric from Trump and his allies on mail-in voting.

There is a lot that can be said (and needs to be said) about the current national discussion about vote-by-mail. One clear element is the truly brazen and transparent hypocrisy coming from the White House on this topic. It is literally “vote-by-mail for me, but not for thee.”

As was already know, Trump himself has voted by mail in Florida elections. When asked about this back in April, he answered “Because I’m allowed to. Well that’s called out of state — you know why I voted? Because I happened to be in the White House and I won’t be able to go to Florida and vote.”

An initial thought is: if voting by mail is such a problem, he could always register in DC and vote there in person.

But, of course, it gets better.

CNN reports: Trump could have voted in person in Florida this year but chose not to):

As President Donald Trump rolled to his West Palm Beach, Florida, golf course on the morning of March 7, his motorcade filed past a library where local officials were preparing for the first day of in-person early voting in Florida’s presidential primary contest.

Trump didn’t stop at that site or any of the 15 other early voting locations in Palm Beach County that were opening that day. By the time the library opened for voting at 10 a.m., Trump had already arrived at his golf course — whose main entrance is across Summit Boulevard from the library. When he departed the course hours later, he didn’t stop to vote either.

Trump would drive past the library four more times that weekend without dropping in to cast a ballot. Instead, he voted by mail — the very option he has begun railing against as governors seek to expand remote voting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

So much for “I happened to be in the White House and I won’t be able to go to Florida and vote.”

More quotes from the CNN article:

“If you’re President of the United States and if you vote in Florida, and you can’t be there, you should be able to send in a ballot,” he said last week at a factory in Michigan.

“If somebody has to mail it in because they’re sick or, by the way, because they live in the White House and they have to vote in Florida and they won’t be in Florida — if there’s a reason for it, that’s okay,” he said on the White House South Lawn last week.

Earlier this month, his spokeswoman reiterated that the President’s decision to cast a ballot by mail was based on his inability to vote in Florida.

“The President is, after all, the President, which means he’s here in Washington; he’s unable to cast his vote down in Florida, his state of residence,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said. “So, for him, that’s why he had to do a mail-in vote. But he supports mail-in voting for a reason, when you have a reason that you are unable to be present.”

Quite frankly, if making time to golf instead of hassling to go to a physical polling place is a good enough excuse to vote absentee, then concerns about exposure to the coronavirus strike me as pretty legit.

For the record: I do think that making time to golf and voting by mail to avoid the hassle of going to a polling location is, in fact, a good enough excuse to vote by mail. The important part is the voting, not where you do it.

Speaking of Kayleigh McEnany, the Tampa Bay Times reported yesterday that Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany has voted by mail 11 times in 10 years.

In a statement emailed after the story published, McEnany said: “Absentee voting has the word absent in it for a reason. It means you’re absent from the jurisdiction or unable to vote in person. President Trump is against the Democrat plan to politicize the coronavirus and expand mass mail-in voting without a reason, which has a high propensity for voter fraud. This is a simple distinction that the media fails to grasp.”

But, what McEnany appears to fail to grasp (or is simply being purposefully dishonest about) is:

However, Florida does not have absentee voting. Anyone can vote by mail here without a reason. The Times asked McEnany if Florida should change its law to restrict voting by mail to those unable to vote in person. The story will be updated if she responds.

The story had not been updated as of my writing of this post.

Just to be clear, here is what the Florida Division of Elections webpage states “Except on Election Day, no excuse is needed to vote a vote-by-mail ballot.” 

Meanwhile, former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, tweeted the following yesterday:

This is correct in the sense that voters do have to request a ballot to vote by mail in Wisconsin, but like McEnany and Trump, he is muddying the waters on absentee versus mail-in ballots. Like in Florida, in Wisconsin you don’t need a reason to vote by mail. From the Wisconsin Elections Commission: “Under Wisconsin law, voters do not need a reason or excuse, such as being out of town on Election Day, to vote absentee.  Any voter who prefers to vote by absentee ballot may request one.”

The notion that automatic state distribution of mail-in ballots is an invitation to fraud, while requested mail-in ballots are awesome, is an utterly false dichotomy designed to confuse the issue. It is an intellectually dishonest attempt to create misunderstanding and doubt in the public. This is also true of trying to pretend like “absentee ballots” are somehow different than mail-in ballots. The debate here is about whether to make it easier, or not, for people to get the ballots.

It is worth noting that three states have 100% vote-by-mail and 27 states had no excuse vote by mail by 2018:*

Source: MIT Election and Data + Science Lab, “Voting by mail and absentee voting 

The three 100% vote-by-mail states (Oregon since 1998, Washington since 2011, and Colorado since 2013) are great places for Trump and company to find evidence of their concerns. But, of course, none of this is about evidence for them.

The issue, therefore, for the majority of states is primarily one of distribution. The main problem is really one of capacity, as the no excuse states are not set up to handle the potential volume that would be created if all eligible voters were mailed ballots.

The ongoing attempt to make it sound that vote-by-mail is an invitation to fraudulent elections is a serious and dangerous attempt to undermine confidence in the November elections. That is unbecoming of a run of the mill citizen of the United States and it egregiously irresponsible for any person holding a position of authority. It is, quite frankly, disgusting for the President of the United States to be doing it.


Side Note: This whole affair, with Trump and others splitting the difference between absentee and vote-by-mail fits perfectly into what I have been writing about of late. He, McEnany, Walker, and others are trying to exploit partisan frames in the public to create the perception in minds of those predisposed to listen to Republican elites that vote-by-mail is bad. The fact that the exemplar is Oregon, a blue state, helps push that partisan messaging and causes people with a partisan mindset to deploy motivated reasoning to accept Trump’s arguments (the same thing happened with voter ID).

I suspect that polling on this question (which probably already had some partisan divide) will see increasing divergence. It will also become more and more a talking point in political media.

At the same time, I expect Democratically mind partisans to themselves becoming more supportive, if not adamantly so, about the value of vote-by-mail.

We are seeing a similar dynamic over mask-wearing. To many people, wearing (or not wearing) a mask in public is a partisan political statement.


*Update: a commenter notes the PA added it in 2019 and I have not researched to see if any other states have changed since the map above was constructed.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Donald Trump, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    The Mississippi-fication of the nation continues. What’s next, a poll tax? Oh wait, Florida is doing its best to impose that one…

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  2. Moosebreath says:

    The map is out of date. Pennsylvania adopted mail-in voting in 2019.

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  3. @Moosebreath: Thanks! I meant to say “as of 2018” in the post, but failed to do so.

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  4. An Interested Party says:

    This reminds me of Leona Helmsley…in addition to only the little people paying taxes, they’re also the only ones who can’t vote by mail, unlike the illustrious likes of Trump and McEnany…the real irony is that his most ardent followers whine about the elites while also supporting the ultimate elitist…

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  5. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Moosebreath:

    The mail in voting also implemented a backdoor early voting, since you can request a mail-in ballot, but then fill it out and drop it off in person before the election day.

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  6. Stormy Dragon says:

    @An Interested Party:

    To paraphrase someone else, conservatism at its core is about separating society into two groups: one of which is protected by the law, but not bound by it, and the other which is bound by the law, but not protected by it.

    17
  7. CSK says:

    @An Interested Party:
    Correction: Trump is the wannabe elitist. He’s a failed social climber. There’s nothing so much he wants as to be one of the elite. It’s the driving force of his life–and the reason why he hates his supporters. They’re the peasants from Queens from whom he’s spent his entire life trying to flee.

    The real movers and shakers in Manhattan have always regarded Trump as nothing better than a vulgar joke. He knows it, and it’s been eating away at him all his life.

    4
  8. Moosebreath says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    “The mail in voting also implemented a backdoor early voting, since you can request a mail-in ballot, but then fill it out and drop it off in person before the election day.”

    True, but since the mail-in ballot is postage prepaid, why would you go to the site, unless you were worried it would not arrive on time.

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    “I meant to say “as of 2018” in the post, but failed to do so.”

    That makes sense. Thanks.

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  9. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Moosebreath:

    True, but since the mail-in ballot is postage prepaid, why would you go to the site, unless you were worried it would not arrive on time.

    Somehow I don’t think Trump just forced the postmaster to resign and replaced them with a loyal minion to make sure mail-in ballots reached their intended destination efficiently.

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  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    Re: the Scott Walker tweet–I was reminded of conversations I had in Korea about importation of US beef at the adoption of the KORUSA free trade agreement. My adult students and others that I talked to were concerned mostly about dining in Hanwoo restaurants–which offer grilled at the table beef for significantly high prices. Korean were concerned that restaurants would substitute cheaper American beef for Hanwoo (Korean) beef without lowering the prices, thereby gouging the customers. It’s a significant difference in price–one time at the Lotte Mart, I paid 65,000 won for 600 grams of Hanwoo beef that would have cost about 15,000 if it had been US beef (and in this particular case, it was worth every penny of the difference, btw 🙂 ).

    When I would ask my students and friends about why they were afraid of that happening, they replied “because that’s what I would do” every time.

    Governor Walker: If your concern is legitimate, perhaps you should consider admonishing yourself and your constituents about the need for y’all to be more honest in your pursuit of your goals. Just sayin’. 🙁

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  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Moosebreath: Can’t speak for other states but in Washington, prepaid postage for ballots was a pilot program in a few small counties (paid for by a Federal grant, IIRC) a couple of elections back. Most larger counties were concerned about where they would get hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary to pay everyone’s postage.

    And, in 2018

    Officials said they hope that paying the postage will eliminate a barrier and make it easier for people to vote. Washington, Oregon and Colorado are the only three states that conduct all their elections by mail, but Washington will be the first state to pay for postage among them. [emphasis added]
    The state will contribute a combined $1.2 million to cover election postage, but only for contests this year, Wyman and Inslee said. The governor added that he and Wyman plan to lobby the legislature so the state can pay for the postage permanently.

    Link I didn’t not find a link for legislation for paid postage to have been passed subsequently. My guess is that since the makeup of the Legislature is about 50-50, passing such legislation will be a pull but would be glad to be wrong if anybody finds an update.

  12. gVOR08 says:

    That Trump and what’s her name, the latest sacrificial press sec, voted by mail is basically Al Gore flies. On airplanes. But everything else they have said or done is BS.

  13. MarkedMan says:

    @CSK: Something widely known inside the greater NYC area that apparently has never got out beyond the Hudson is that Trump has been locked out of the NYC business world since the 90’s. He can’t get money or partnerships or even the time of day. By the 90’s everyone knew it was a fiction that he ever had any decision making role in his father’s successful business. Once he burned through that money with poorly thought out and poorly managed projects, no one would even accept his calls. Hence his fascination with executives that accept his calls now because he’s the president.

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  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    With the correction added by @Moosebreath: it strikes me that the only ‘green’ state we care about is Michigan. Virginia will be fine for us. The rest are probably lost causes unless there’s a blue wave, and if there’s a blue wave we don’t need them.

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  15. CSK says:

    @MarkedMan:
    Oh, quite so. Actually, the business world never took him seriously, even when he was apparently riding high in the go-go eighties. As someone who would know observed, “He’s just a clown living on credit.”

    It’s no secret that for the past quarter century (at least) no U.S. bank would do business with him. He ended up at Deutschebank because they were the only financial institution that would give him the time of day.

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  16. Moosebreath says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    “it strikes me that the only ‘green’ state we care about is Michigan”

    New Hampshire is also a purple state which is in green on the map, though a small one.

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    “Most larger counties were concerned about where they would get hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary to pay everyone’s postage.”

    My county has well over half a million residents, and they paid postage. On the other hand, looking at other counties in the region, it looks like that was decided county by county.

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  17. Mikey says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Virginia will be fine for us.

    Virginia says “excuse required,” but the available excuses are many and easy to reach (for instance, if one simply works outside their county of residence on Election Day). Virginia’s “absentee” voting can also be done in person, which amounts to several weeks of early voting possibility.

    I’ve voted this way in almost all elections since it was instituted. It would be very easy indeed to set up the process to comply with social distancing and mask wearing requirements.

    1
  18. Monala says:

    @Stormy Dragon: There are ballot drop boxes here in Washington, and I assume in Oregon and Colorado as well. So you can avoid having to mail your ballot in altogether.

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  19. Kurtz says:

    Walker has always struck me as a not as slick and not as smart Paul Ryan. Which… Well… Ouch. That must suck.

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  20. Scott says:

    Texas has mail-in ballots for specific groups: senior citizens, disabled, and active duty elsewhere. You can also request by attesting that you will not be in your home county on election day. The Texas Supreme Court (elected judges BTW (good or bad? discuss!)) just ruled that a pandemic does not qualify as an excuse for a mail in ballot. Of course, our indicted felon Attorney General Ken Paxton is fighting tooth and nail the use of mail in ballots because of voting fraud.

    As I’m fond of asking in any such discussion: Have our senior citizens and military been engaged in voter fraud for decades? Is that what you are saying?

    It is all BS, of course.

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  21. Scott says:

    BTW, most of the election officials manning voting sites are volunteers and retirees. No one has asked them if they are volunteering to be exposed during an election. We will find out in July when runoffs elections occur.

    Of course, shortage of poll workers will require cut backs in polling locations. Guess where the cutbacks will happen? Win-Win all around.

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  22. Scott F. says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Except what Trumpists are doing here is proactive delegitimization of the votes in Oregon, California, Colorado and the like.

    Trump is setting the stage to argue that the election results in the orange and purple states are fraudulent when he is defeated in 2020 and simultaneously arguing the results in these same states were valid when they elected him in 2016. Despite the fact that vote by mail laws were exactly the same in those states both cycles.

    1
  23. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Moosebreath:

    In NH, the excuse of I can’t make it to the polls suffices. A month or so ago, NH Rep governor, reiterated that any voter who wants an absentee ballot can have one. The issue is that you need to submit a form requesting the ballot, rather than just receiving one because you’re a registered voter.

  24. Neil Hudelson says:

    I would be curious to see this map with those states who have adopted no-excuse mail ballots for the 2020 election. Even deep red Indiana–Pence’s home state!–has adopted no-excuse absentee balloting for at least the 2020 primary and general election. In our conversations, both the BoE members and Governor Holcomb have indicated they have no objections to adopting it for future elections during COVID. (Permanent adoption would require legislation to pass the super gerrymandered legislature, so that’s not gonna happen.)

    Doing some light research, here’s some temporary changes that have already occurred in the “green” states:
    -Rhode Island is sending out ballot applications to all registered voters.
    -Massachusetts adopted no-excuse absentee voting for the 2020 GE.
    -New Hampshire adopted no-excuse absentee voting for the 2020 GE.
    -Indiana adopted no-excuse absentee voting for the 2020 GE and primary.
    -Michigan is sending mail absentee ballot applications to registered voters for both the primary and GE.
    -While not a ‘green’ state, it should be noted that the Nevadan Secretary of State Cegavske–a Republican–is pushing ahead with her plan to automatically mail ballots to all voters for their primary. (TIL that Nevada has a presidential caucus and, later, a state primary.)

    I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more states who have already adopted temporary changes.

    I know polls have shown that close to 2/3rds of all voters do not see an issue with mail-in ballots for 2020. I’m glad the states that are adopting good changes are not purely ‘blue’ states. There are still a few, vanishingly few, Republicans who are interested in governing on behalf of all citizens, not just their tribe.

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  25. Scott F. says:

    The elephant in the room is the foundational argument that if more people vote Republicans will lose.

    Last month, Trump even said the quiet part out loud last month:

    “The things they had in there were crazy. They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,” Trump said during an appearance on Fox & Friends. “They had things in there about election days and what you do and all sorts of clawbacks. They had things that were just totally crazy and had nothing to do with workers that lost their jobs and companies that we have to save.”

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  26. @Scott:

    Have our senior citizens and military been engaged in voter fraud for decades?

    I had meant to mention the military as well.

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  27. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott:

    As I’m fond of asking in any such discussion: Have our senior citizens and military been engaged in voter fraud for decades? Is that what you are saying?

    Yes, they have.

    There have been assertions of people with dual residences voting in both. People with dual residences tend to be senior citizens and Republican.

    And in Bush v Gore in 2000 there were military votes that arrived late, without postmarks, and claims of votes being hastily collected and mailed Wed AM. Big numbers, no. Enough to change the election, probably not. But favoring Republicans.

    You may note that in all their screaming and hollering about vote fraud, GOPs never brought up about mail voting until now, when it might facilitate higher turnout, which is generally assumed to favor Ds.

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  28. DrDaveT says:

    One clear element is the truly brazen and transparent hypocrisy coming from the White House on this topic.

    It’s only transparent if you have eyes.

  29. de stijl says:

    @CSK:

    Trump will always be some schmuck from Queens.

    Society Manhattan disdained him as a grasper.

    That wounded him deeply. Burned.

    He latched on to attack as defense. He had palled about with Roy Cohn.

    1
  30. Michael Cain says:

    I suspect that polling on this question (which probably already had some partisan divide) will see increasing divergence. It will also become more and more a talking point in political media.

    Related polling… After Colorado’s mail ballot distribution had been used a couple of times, one of the polling outfits asked the question, “Should Colorado retain it’s vote-by-mail system?” 85% of Democrats, 80% of independents, and 75% of Republicans said yes. Apple pie doesn’t poll that well here, and Mom should probably be worried. (Every registered voter in Colorado receives a ballot by mail. A substantial majority of ballots are returned through the drop-off box network, not by mail.)

    Update: a commenter notes the PA added it in 2019 and I have not researched to see if any other states have changed since the map above was constructed.

    Pennsylvania appears to have added “no-excuse”, but voters must still request a mail ballot each election. Hawaii and Utah will mail all registered voters a ballot in each election from 2020. That’s not an enormous change; in 2018 Utah was already at 90% and Hawaii at 56% of registered voters. The Brennan Center provides useful information here. In the 13-state West in 2018, on the order of 70% of all registered voters received a ballot by mail.

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  31. Michael Cain says:

    @Michael Cain: Added for clarity… In 2018 on the order of 70% of western voters received a ballot by mail without taking any action, because they were on a permanent list of one sort or another.

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  32. Slugger says:

    When I was working, it was a pain to vote in person. If people don’t like vote-by-mail, how about voting on Saturday or Sunday?

  33. Mister Bluster says:

    @Slugger:..how about voting on Saturday or Sunday?

    How about the polls open at sunrise on Saturday and close at sunset on Sunday?

  34. de stijl says:

    @Kurtz:

    I really apologize for what I said yesterday.

    I had no call to butt in. I sincerely apologize.