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Wednesday, July 8, 2020

GOP Pushes Mail Voting – With Restrictions – As Trump Attacks “Corrupt”

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Despite the president’s rhetoric, leaders of states parties across the country are urging their voters to vote by mail, GOP officials confirmed. Additionally, Republican officials in at least 16 states that do not have email elections encourage people to vote by mail during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Washington Post count.

Among them, the republican governors or state secretaries of Georgia, Ohio, New Hampshire and Iowa, who announced in recent days that they would allow a large vote by mail in the next elections.

Their movements come after decades in which Republicans encouraged their voters to take advantage of the rules for postal voting, by running sophisticated mail programs that targeted GOP supporters most likely to vote at home.

The apparent conflict between Trump’s attacks on postal voting and his party’s long-standing commitment to the tactic comes as the health crisis prompted Democrats and civil rights groups to push for looser voting restrictions. by correspondence in many jurisdictions.

“Republicans love postal voting when used by people with second homes,” said former governor of Virginia and former chairman of the National Democratic Committee, Terry McAuliffe, “but not by people with second jobs.” .

Republican officials say there is no dissonance between the president’s rhetoric and what is happening on the ground. They say Trump opposes email elections in which every registered voter receives a ballot by mail, as well as the practice of “harvesting” ballots, where third parties are allowed to collect the ballots to vote and deliver them. The two are also too susceptible to fraud, they say.

“There is a very obvious difference between asking for a mail-in ballot when you cannot vote in person and automatically sending a ballot to every registered voter,” said Trump campaign spokesperson Tim Murtaugh. . “Sending a ballot to everyone opens up vast possibilities for intercepting ballots, stealing ballots from mailboxes or collecting votes.”

Trump, who voted absent last month in Florida, said he did it “because I’m allowed to do it,” adding that he was in the White House and out of state. He compared this to what he claimed to be “thousands and thousands of people sitting in someone’s living room signing ballots everywhere”.

Experts said postal voting creates a risk of fraud by loosening the ballot chain of custody, but noted that such episodes are rare. The most significant recent example came in a race for Congress in 2018 in North Carolina, when a GOP agent was accused with several crimes in the context of a falsified ballot operation which is still under investigation.

According to Republican and Democratic election officials, states with extensive postal voting systems have adopted safeguards such as signature requirements that make this fraud virtually non-existent.

Democrats and civil rights activists say Trump and his party are trying to undermine confidence in the mail ballot and cut voter turnout, while encouraging their own voters with well-oiled mail operations.

They say some of the restrictions that Republicans want to put in place will have a disproportionate effect on minority communities and young people – an intentional effort, they say, to remove the participation of voters who tend to vote for Democrats.

“The Republican Party has now declared, from president to president of the Georgia Assembly, that it cannot win elections if everyone votes,” said Marc Elias, Washington-based electoral lawyer for the National Democratic Committee . “They are therefore desperate to ensure that voter turnout is low among young voters and minority voters.”

The clash shows how the two parties hope to gain an advantage as the coronavirus disrupts the political calendar – a dynamic that worries voting supporters could interfere with the ability to reach consensus on safe voting practices during a pandemic.

Republicans have long persuaded their constituents to vote by mail. Haley Barbour, former chairman of the RNC and governor of Mississippi, said the party’s postal vote “long preceded” his term as leader of the party from 1993 to 1997.

The effort was aimed at stimulating the participation of GOP voters who might prefer to vote at home, like the elderly. Republicans have been particularly successful in the states, including Florida, where their constituents have adopted the option.

About a third of states only allow postal voting with an excuse, with some granting apologies to strongly Republican groups, such as the elderly.

Faced with coronavirus, Republican officials in many states are now relaxing some of these restrictions. In West Virginia, Idaho, South Dakota and Nebraska, for example, GOP election officials proactively send mail-in ballot request forms to registered voters.

“Basically, if you feel more comfortable voting due to the epidemic or your inability or nervousness to come in person to vote, you can vote by mail and get a ballot,” a said New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu. ad On Thursday, the state will allow voters to cite the virus as an excuse to vote by mail in November.

Democrats and some voting experts say some Republican officials are finding ways to limit postal voting to their advantage.

A central point of the dispute is whether to send the ballots to all voters – or only to those who request them.

Republicans argue that voter lists are extremely inaccurate in some states, including the dead, duplicates or voters who have moved. Sending a ballot paper to each registered voter, they say, could fall into the wrong hands and fill it out fraudulently.

“States should resist proposals that open the door to electoral fraud, such as sending ballots to voters who did not request them,” said Justin Clark, senior political advisor to the Trump campaign.

Michael McDonald, an election expert at the University of Florida, said that a polling system means “basically you have to register if you want to vote, before every election.” He also said it was unfair to punish voters for poorly kept voters lists.

In Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced last month that he would send a mail-in request to every voter – but only to active voters, not all registered voters. The plan was developed in coordination with the Trump re-election committee, according to a campaign official.

This approach means that candidacies will not be sent to those who have not voted or responded to official election contacts in five years. This will exclude around 300,000 of the 7.2 million Georgian voters, according to state data. Of these, 24% are 30 and under and 40% are not white.

“It’s a way of trying to shape the electorate,” said McDonald.

Raffensperger, a Republican, focused on blocking fraud rather than increasing access. At a press conference last week, he announced the formation of an “absentee ballot task force” with prosecutors and other law enforcement to ensure that the expansion postal voting does not lead to more fraud.

The task force, said Raffensperger, “will investigate all unmatched signature mismatches, interview voters with multiple unaccounted votes from the same address, and develop rules for investigating non-residential address inquiries.” used as registration addresses “.

Lauren Groh-Wargo, former campaign director for 2018 Democratic Governor candidate Stacey Abrams, said such efforts are likely to intimidate voters and cut voter turnout.

“They’re talking about criminalizing an illegal signature,” said Groh-Wargo, who now heads the Abrams-based voting group Fair Fight Action. “That’s why the crackdown on voters is so insidious. You knock on the doors of 10 people in a neighborhood because their signature did not match. Nothing will likely happen, but in the meantime, people are charged with crimes or misdemeanors, and it is spreading virally that voting by mail is risky. “

Raffensperger’s office did not respond to a request for comment. In his announcement, the Secretary of State said, “Those who wish to take advantage of us in these troubled times and undermine the strength of democracy in Georgia must be warned. Actions delegitimizing the integrity of the vote in Georgia will not be tolerated. “

Parties are also sharply divided over whether to mandate uniform email voting standards for all states at the federal level – a proposal championed by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). In an interview, Klobuchar said that at the very least, Congress must find more money to help states avoid chaos as millions of Americans prepare to vote by mail.

“You have a number of elected Democrats and Republicans across the country, and there are exceptions of course, who want to vote by mail,” said Klobuchar. “And they want funding to vote by mail.”

But GOP officials have resisted any funding that comes with requirements on how to run an email voting program, citing the potential for fraud.

Partisan tensions manifested themselves Thursday during a conference call organized by Klobuchar for the media to hear eight Secretaries of State.

Two Republicans – Kyle Ardoin of Louisiana and Mac Warner of West Virginia – have expressed concerns that an acceleration of universal mail voting would leave their states vulnerable to electoral fraud.

“You have to trust these local officials who say,” I don’t want to expand the possibilities of abuse of the electoral process, “” said Warner. “And we have this situation here in West Virginia. I don’t want to buy votes. I don’t want aid to be facilitated to allow others to help them vote, etc.”

This sparked a scorching reprimand from Colorado secretary of state Jena Griswold, a Democrat who called her state’s electoral system “the safest in the country.”

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver urged election administrators to avoid such arguments, saying they only serve to further divide Americans and undermine confidence in the elections.

“This is not the time or the place for us to disintegrate each other according to partisan principles,” she said.

Much of the debate centers around the risk of ballot-harvesting, which is illegal in many states.

After the operation discovered during the 2018 congress run in North Carolina, lawmakers passed major legislative reforms in the state, including a strict requirement that voters obtain two witness signatures before sending their ballot.

Democrats and state election officials, who supported the new rule at the time, now want to roll it back, saying the pandemic is threatening voter access. The Republicans, who control the legislature, have so far refused – and accused the Democrats of trying to allow the type of fraud that infected the 2018 competition.

“I am concerned that if what you are doing is lowering confidence in the election results, I think we must be very careful in that direction,” said North Carolina Senate president Phil Berger (R).

Elias, who leads the Democratic Party’s efforts in court to overturn restrictions on postal voting, acknowledged that the collection of ballots by third parties was part of the DNC’s objectives. The party is also seeking free postage, the ability for voters to fix a rejected ballot, and rule changes in states that require ballots to be received before polling day to allow them to be stamped from the post office that day.

Elias said that elections should be won or lost on the sidelines, which means that these types of rules will matter. Postage, for example, is becoming a problem for low-income voters or young people unaccustomed to using mail. The right to fix a ballot for a missing or mismatched signature is important to guard against unfair practices or untrained election officials, he said.

The Democrats continued these rules, winning in Florida and obtaining a settlement in Georgia to guarantee the right to a “remedy” at the polls. Elias said he was preparing litigation in a number of additional states now that postal voting should become more popular.

State Democrats have already filed a lawsuit in Texas, where voters must have a reason like disability, age or travel to vote by mail, and where Governor Greg Abbott (R) resisted calls to expand the postal voting.

Scott Clement, Emily Guskin and Michael Scherer contributed to this report.

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