Media reports and commentary about President Donald Trump once again tweeting election disinformation should clearly name it as such instead of debating the merits of a meritless situation. Besides being riddled with inaccuracies about vote-by-mail, Trump’s actions and rhetoric since his 2016 campaign suggests these “safety concerns” have everything to do with sowing fear and confusion about the upcoming election. His handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and insistence on reopening merits the maximum number of Pinocchios for his alleged concern about “safety” in the general election.
“Suggesting the possibility of moving the General Election is an extraordinary statement from a sitting President and is sure to create confusion amongst voters about presidential powers in relation to the election,” said Trevor Potter, president of Campaign Legal Center and a former Republican Chairman of the Federal Election Commission, in a statement.
Repeating Trump’s disinformation and allowing him to retain narrative control only provides cover for the disarray happening across the board as states struggle with adapting to election administration in a pandemic. Trump intentionally conflates election fraud with voter fraud, and pushes “inflammatory rhetoric around voter fraud and vote-by-mail persists as both a political tool to turn out a base fearful of a diversifying electorate and as a way to undermine the validity of election outcomes.”
While some states have statewide vote-by-mail elections, there is no universal vote-by-mail in the United States. And even if there were universal vote-by-mail for federal elections, it is not automatically ripe for fraud. Vote-by-mail states have robust election systems and procedures in place to ensure accessibility and safety while creating opportunities for all eligible voters to access the franchise. Secretaries of State Kim Wyman (R-WA) and Jena Griswold of Colorado (D-CO) have participated in several panels and webinars since the start of the pandemic preaching the gospel of vote-by-mail.
Trump’s distinction between voting with an absentee ballot or in a vote-by-mail system plays fast and loose with facts, creating false distinctions that are not relevant in the current system of federal election administration. Having a thoughtful and well-planned vote-by-mail option is a better alternative to the haphazard scaling up of absentee ballot use that is taking place across the country.
Condemning Trump’s election disinformation is not a partisan issue. As previously reported by Prism, there has been a cross partisan effort to correct and challenge the president on his continued attempts to undermine the election. The National Task Force on Election Crises, a cross-partisan group of more than 40 election administrators and election law experts, published a guide explaining the authority concerning postponement of the general election.
Marc Elias, an election lawyer and creator of the Democracy Docket, wrote a similar article in March explaining why Trump could not actually move or delay the general election. Both chambers of Congress would have to agree to delaying the election, change federal law, and send the legislation to Trump for signature. Any delay could not last more than two months per the Constitution. Elias wrote that people should focus their concern on how elections are being administered at the state level particularly with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“States have an enormous amount of control over how elections are run, including setting rules on voter registration, poll site locations and hours, voter ID requirements and—the most popular topic lately—vote-by-mail options,” wrote Elias.
Instead of amplifying disinformation, media coverage should focus on correcting disinformation at the outset and highlighting the issues that require our attention at the state level. If Trump truly cared about safety, he would be encouraging Congress to pass necessary funding to address the ongoing concerns around the pandemic.
As the country is mourning the recent departure of voting rights champion and minister of “good trouble,” Rep. John Lewis, Congress has been called upon to pass HR 4 and the HEROES Act, HR 6800. Earlier this week, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights along with coalition partners urged senators to pass both pieces of legislation, providing $3.6 billion for election administration and voting rights protections ahead of the November 2020 elections.
“This legislation would provide necessary funding of $3.6 billion to states for election assistance as well as vital voting rights reforms that were based on Representative Lewis’s Voter Empowerment Act–such as no-excuse absentee ballots, at least 15 days of in-person early voting, accessible online and same-day voter registration, and equal access for voters with disabilities–that are essential to help this nation safeguard the November 2020 election,” wrote the coalition.
Potter also called on members of Congress to condemn the president’s statement. “Congress has the responsibility to make sure that the election takes place safely and smoothly, and that requires the Senate to include funding for state election activities in the coronavirus bill they are currently debating so that states can be prepared to handle a surge in mail voting for November,” he said. “Time is running out to give the states the funding they need to get this right.”