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Trump Keeps Criticizing Universal Vote By Mail. But The Nation Isn't Doing That

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference on July 30.
Yuri Gripas
Getty Images
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference on July 30.

President Trump's claims about why November's election could be marred and illegitimate shifted again Thursday, after he walked back his desire to potentially delay voting.

Trump falsely claimed that the U.S. is sending out "hundreds of millions of universal mail-in ballots" and also repeated a conspiracy theory about foreign countries counterfeiting ballots.

"We are sending out hundreds of millions of universal mail-in ballots," Trump said. "Where are they going? Who are they being sent to?"

Trump seemed to be referencing California, which has decided to send a mail ballotto all of the state's more than 20 million registered voters ahead of the presidential election. A handful of states also send ballots to all registered voters, but no states send ballots out to people who are not registered to vote.

In May, Trump similarly falsely claimed that California was sending ballots to anyone, "no matter who they are or how they got there." Twitter added a fact-check warning to the tweet shortly after it was published.

Trump also repeated a fear that he and Attorney General William Barr have raised, about foreign countries counterfeiting ballots. Neither Trump nor Barr have explained how such a plot could successfully pass the numerous safeguards election officials have in place, like barcodes and signature verification, instead they have said as Trump did Thursday, that the threat was "obvious."

Sowing doubt in the delay

It's long been clear to election experts that with a rise in mail ballots, would come a delay in finding out the winner of elections. The reason is that mail ballots take longer to process than in-person ballots, especially in states that have less mail voting infrastructure and are scaling up quickly to respond to the pandemic.

Officials need to verify signatures, open envelopes and, in many states, much of that process can't begin until the day of the election, due to state law.

But President Trump said Thursday that he didn't want to allow increased usage of mail ballots, because he didn't want such a delay in getting results.

"Must know Election results on the night of the Election, not days, months, or even years later!" he tweeted.

Election officials, however, say that it's more important to focus on accuracy as opposed to speed. Such a delay in counting the mail ballots should be seen as a sign that officials are safeguarding against the sort of fraud Trump says he is worried about, according to Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar.

"There's the headlines that say this is a disaster if there's a delay, and that's not right," she told NPR in June. "If we all anticipate that accurate vote counts, with a higher volume by mail, or for any reason, for a pandemic or for civil unrest, take longer because it takes longer to make sure the count is accurate, then that's the opposite of a disaster.

"That's what every single voter and official should want for this country."

Numerous experts and officials spoke out Thursday about Trump's rhetoric.

Former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, a Republican who is leading an organization aimed at helping Americans vote safely during the pandemic, tweeted that "rather than working to safeguard the election this year, [Trump is] preemptively trying to delegitimize it."

Partisanship and mail voting

Lastly, Trump falsely claimed that there is a distinct partisan breakdown between supporters of vote by mail and opponents.

"This is the opposite of voter ID," Trump said. "The Democrats love it, the Republicans hate it."

But numerous state level Republicans run elections in states that are all or majority mail-in, including Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman and Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno.

A recent Pew poll also found that about half of all Republicans nationwide supported allowing all registered voters nationwide the option to vote by mail without an excuse.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.