Updated August 4, 2020 - 4:34 pm
WASHINGTON — Even as he encouraged Floridians to vote by mail, President Donald Trump continued his verbal war against a new Nevada vote-by-mail law Tuesday and Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany cited a Review-Journal story as a reason for the president’s position.
After consistently bashing voting by mail as fraud-friendly, Tuesday Trump posted a tweet that urged Floridians to vote by mail.
“In Florida the election system is Safe and Secure, Tried and True. Florida’s Voting system has been cleaned up (we defeated Democrats attempts at change), so in Florida I encourage all to request a Ballot & Vote by Mail!” Trump wrote.
It was a pivot that showed the usually stubborn chief executive moving away from opposing universal voting by mail and instead citing problems election officials have faced, including counting record numbers of mail-in ballots after state officials expanded voting by mail to make it safer to vote during the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump and his campaign also argue that if election officials are grappling with such problems during primaries, counting mail-in ballots in the higher turnout November election will be a nightmare.
McEnany began her daily briefing calling Tuesday “Day 42 of the botched New York City primary where still there is no election results in one congressional race,” in a reference to a Democratic primary in the 12th Congressional District pitting Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney against progressive challenger Suraj Patel.
Overwhelmed with ballots
McEnany noted that The New York Times had reported that the delay is due to “the deluge of 400,000 mail-in ballots,” for which election officials were unprepared.
One unnamed election official told the New York Times that the state’s problem counting mailed-in ballots is the sort of thing that happens if you plan a dinner party for ten people — and then find out 100 people will attend.
In Michigan, voters complained that the vote-by-mail ballots which they had requested had not arrived in the mail.
In the November general election, at least 77 percent of American voters will be able to vote by mail, according to a Washington Post tracker of state rules.
Matt Terrill, a partner in the public affairs firm Firehouse Strategies and chief of staff to Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign, said Trump’s about-face showed “the president recognizing that he has to quickly change his tactics and strategy to win this race.”
Seniors, who are at higher risk if they contract the coronavirus, may not feel comfortable voting in person, but they also may not have voted by mail before. The Trump campaign should try to educate the public, Terrill said, by showing them “a healthy way to vote come November.”
Timing is key here, Terrill added, because “absentee voting starts early” and “elections are no longer decided on Election Day.”
It’s not clear what Trump meant when he argued Florida had cleaned up its system.
But a major difference between Florida’s vote-by-mail system and how Nevadans will vote under a newly passed election law is that Floridians have to request vote-by-mail ballots. The bill passed on party-line votes during a weekend special session and signed by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak requires election officials to send ballots to all active registered voters.
McEnany also praised a May 19 story in the Review-Journal for “extensive and very good reporting on Nevada’s first all-mail primary election.” The story included a photo of discarded ballots sent out ahead of the June 9 primary and quoted a postal worker who said many of those ballots were “no good” because the recipients were dead or had moved.
No fraud in primary
In response to McEnany’s remarks, the Nevada State Democratic Party’s Rapid Response Director Madison Mundy sent out a statement that said, “The Trump administration is falsely claiming fraud in Nevada’s all-mail primary election in an attempt to weaken the integrity of our election system. Our Republican Secretary of State made clear in recent testimony that there were no instances of fraud during our June primary. The fact is, Assembly Bill 4 ensures eligible Nevada voters do not have to choose between their health and their constitutional right to vote by providing additional options to participate safely in this election.”
Asked why he supports voting by mail in Florida, but not Nevada, during a briefing, Trump responded that “Florida has a great Republican governor,” has a well established system for voting by mail and “Florida is a very well-run state.”
Nevada is run by a Democratic governor who said “let’s just send out millions of ballots and the post office cannot be prepared,” Trump charged. “In the case of Nevada, they’re going to be voting in a matter of weeks.”
At a news conference Monday, Gov. Steve Sisolak rejected Trump’s criticisms.
“It is extremely important to me that our citizens do not have to decide between their health and their right to vote. I think that this bill encompasses that, makes it easier for people to vote, and I’m proud of the bill that came from the Legislature,” he said.