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CLARENCE PAGE: President Trump hates mail-in voting, until he doesn’t

Updated August 10, 2020 - 9:19 pm

OK, let’s try to get this straight. President Donald Trump doesn’t trust mail-in voting — until he does.

For example, he denounced the very idea of voting by mail as an invitation to commit voter fraud, a bipartisan suspicion, and a problem which he tends to pin solely on Democrats. That’s politics. But the president changed that tune in the middle of this past week to suggest in a tweet that voting by mail is just dandy — if it is in states that are run by Republican governors.

That would include Florida, the president’s newly adopted home state where he, too, voted by mail in the recent primary election.

“Whether you call it Vote by Mail or Absentee Voting, in Florida the election system is Safe and Secure, Tried and True,” Trump tweeted last week. “I encourage all to request a Ballot &Vote by Mail! 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!”

By midweek, Trump also changed his mind about Arizona, as reports mounted of Republican officials across the country who feared that his unsupported claims of mass voter fraud were discouraging more than Democrats.

After a visit with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, Trump amended his earlier pronouncement to praise mail-in voting in Arizona and bash Nevada. There Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a bill that made his state the eighth that plans to mail every voter a ballot.

Trump is suing Nevada over the new law, saying in a burst of classic unsupported Trumpian overstatement that it will make it “impossible” for a Republican candidate to win the state.

What’s truly unsettling about Trump’s obsession with mail-in voting is how much it reveals about how little he knows about how states elect presidents.

Yet he does show a keen grasp of what his base prefers. A recent CNN/SSRS poll, for example, found that 59 percent of voters in Florida who “lean Democratic” said they would prefer to vote by mail ballot, compared with only 21 percent of Republican-leaning voters.

No wonder Trump hates mail-in ballots except when he doesn’t. For all his unsupported talk about how this election amid the coronavirus pandemic will be the most “inaccurate and fraudulent election in history,” he seems unconcerned with how to make voting easier for those who want to avoid leaving their homes during a pandemic.

Worse he has stood idly by as concerns have mounted over the speed, funding and efficiency of the nation’s fast pivot to voting by mail this year.

The Brennan Center for Justice, for example, puts the price tag into the neighborhood of a billion dollars for postage, tracking and other security measures. Yet the most recent coronavirus stimulus proposals by Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans he leads haven’t allocated a dime to beefing up for November.

Yet, Trump and his administration appear to be more focused on defunding the Postal Service and the states that have expanded their absentee voting.

Compounding the irony is the recent death of civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, celebrated nationwide for devoting his life — and risking it — to the cause of voting rights for all. That cause is the essence of democracy. It must continue, whether our president supports it every day or not.

Email Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.

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