Americans have been voting by mail since the Civil War and it was growing in popularity even before the pandemic. While the risk of infection for in-person voting is low if precautions are taken, poll workers do face significant risk because of repeated (hopefully) low-risk exposures. But why take needless risk when vote by mail is a proven option? Trump has expressed his opposition it—at least in some cases. He has advanced three main reasons to support his view.
His first is claim that vote by mail would result in rampant voter fraud (in favor of the Democrats). While voter fraud is extremely rare, it can occur—and there are documented cases of voting fraud involving vote by mail. Ironically, the most recent (2018) case of documented voting fraud involving vote by mail ballots was committed by Republican candidate Mark Harris. While vote by mail fraud is obviously not impossible, we have decades of data on mail-in voting—including data from five states that conduct almost all voting by mail. The overwhelming evidence is that fraud is extremely rare. Interestingly, a federal judge has ordered the Trump administration to provide proof of mail in voter fraud or admit they have no such evidence. This is a reasonable request and, if fraud is a rampant as Trump claims, there should be abundant evidence. Presumably because it has no evidence, the Trump administration has resorted to the appeal to ignorance fallacy, asserting that there is voter fraud because there is no evidence there is not voter fraud.
Despite his claims, Trump votes by mail in our adopted state of Florida, as do many other Floridians. Republicans used to be the majority of those voting by mail here—but this seems to be changing in light of the pandemic and because the Democrats realized they could use Trump’s attacks against him. In response, Trump has begun claiming that Florida is a special exception and voting by mail is safe here. He initially tried claiming that he had voted using an absentee ballot which is safer than vote by mail. This is absurd, since Florida stopped using the “absentee ballot” designation some time ago and all vote by mail in the state is the same: any registered voter can just request a mail in ballot. That is how I just voted. There is also the fact that an absentee ballot is voting by mail. It is evident that Trump is not operating on a principled concern about vote by mail fraud; his concept of safe voting is voting that favors him.
I do admit the obvious: mail in voter fraud can occur, but the evidence is that Trump is exaggerating about even the potential for fraud. As a general point, the least efficient and highest risk means of tampering with an election is voter fraud—if someone wanted to rig an election, there are far better ways to do so. For example, engaging in voter suppression or interfering with vote by mail.
His second claim is the post office will not be able to handle vote by mail, so it should be prevented. Except, obviously, in Florida and states Trump thinks he can win with mail-in ballots. While problems with the USPS predate Trump, he has admitted that he is acting against the USPS to stop mail in voting. As such, he is trying to support his claim by making it true, which is clearly wrong. This is analogous to claiming that people should not use a ladder because it is unsafe, then making it unsafe by sawing the rungs until they will break easily. And doing the sawing in public while being filmed. In a properly functioning democracy, the public statement of an elected official that they are intentionally rigging an election would have meaningful consequences. But we do not seem to have one of those anymore.
The damage Trump is doing to the United States by trying to sabotage the post office is an entire other issue, but it is worth noting that his efforts to rig the vote can do damage far beyond the election and will be especially harmful to much of his base. Presumably, his base either does not believe they will be harmed, or they do not care—perhaps they believe that a Trump victory is worth the harm they will sustain.
His third claim is that Republicans would lose if voting were easier. This is something that Republicans usually do not say publicly—but the changes in the political demographics and the actions of the Republicans have yielded a voter advantage for Democrats in many places. Trump, after all, was defeated by a significant margin in the popular vote. In a properly functioning democracy, the acceptable solution would be efforts to win over more voters rather than engage in voter suppression. Also, in a properly functioning democracy an elected official would face meaningful consequences for taking a clear position in favor of reducing participation in elections that would be to their advantage.
While it is true that Trump would lose if all (or even most) eligible voters voted, his war on vote-by mail might end up hurting Republicans for a variety of reasons, something that some Republicans have recognized. It might even end up hurting him. It would be ironic if Trump lost, in part, because his attempt to suppress Biden voters ended up being more effective suppressing Trump voters.
In light of the evidence, mail-in voting is the right moral and practical choice for the 2020 election. Trump’s claims are (with one exception) untrue and he is openly trying to subvert the election. That he is facing no meaningful consequences for this (and his other misdeeds) makes me feel shame as an American. Apparently, this is something most Republicans cannot feel—with a very few notable exceptions.