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Mail-in voting isn’t ‘fraudulent,’ despite Trump’s claims. Here’s what experts say

President Trump.
President Trump.Andrew Harrer/Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloo

President Trump on Friday continued to ramp up his rhetoric attacking states for passing vote-by-mail laws amid the coronavirus pandemic, this time claiming that while absentee voting is acceptable, voting by mail is not. But the two are largely the same thing, according voting rights advocates and state officials.

The tweets came as Trump’s polling numbers continue to sag, and just days after Massachusetts lawmakers approved a bill allowing all Massachusetts voters to cast ballots by mail this fall.

In his tweets Friday, Trump said that absentee voting was fine, but vote-by-mail programs are rife with fraud. But absentee voting and mail-in voting are largely the same thing, according to a spokeswoman for Secretary of State Bill Galvin.

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“There is no substantive difference in the process between voting absentee and voting by mail,” Debra O’Malley told the Globe Friday. “Both systems require the voter to submit a signed application to their local election official, wait to receive their ballot in the mail, and return their marked ballot to their local election official by Election Day. Both types of ballots require a signature on the ballot envelope which is matched to the voter’s signature on file.”

“The only difference between absentee voting and ‘vote-by-mail,’ which is actually a type of early voting in Massachusetts, is that absentee voting requires an excuse and early voting by mail does not,” she added.

State Senator Barry Finegold, who who worked on the Massachusetts legislation as chair of the Joint Committee on Election Laws, called Trump’s allegations of fraud “a total fabrication.”

“Historically, we have just not seen voter fraud in any way” when it comes to absentee or mail-in voting, he said in an interview Friday. “It’s just it’s not true and that’s not what the facts are.”

Even before the pandemic, five states already conducted elections entirely by mail, including heavily Republican Utah. The others are Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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“It’s a nonpartisan way of ensuring people can vote from the safety of their own home,” said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to transparency and accountability in government.

She noted that Republicans have also supported vote by mail in the past, and historically it was primarily used by older, white voters.

Alex Psilakis, policy and communications manager for MassVOTE, an advocacy organization that pushes for voting reforms including vote by mail, said an expansion of mail-in voting shouldn’t be a partisan issue in the midst of a pandemic.

“My guess is that the President is preaching this narrative because he believes that vote by mail will lead to his defeat this November. In doing so, he is acting in a reckless manner, threatening to delegitimize a perfectly legitimate system that elevates everyone’s voices. With more than 130,000 people dead in this country from COVID-19, implementing vote by mail should not even be a question at this point,” Psilakis told the Globe in an e-mail.

Trump himself has voted absentee, as have a number of his top aides. But he has slammed the idea of mail-in voting dozens of times in tweets over the past few months, as states that don’t already have a mail-in voting system look for ways to keep people safe from coronavirus as they vote in the primaries and in November.

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Trump has a track record of claiming voter fraud when election results do not go his way. Following the 2016 presidential election, Trump claimed he actually won the state of New Hampshire, which went for Hillary Clinton by about 3,000 votes.

He also established a commission to investigate election fraud, which did not find evidence of widespread cheating and was later disbanded.


Christina Prignano can be reached at christina.prignano@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @cprignano.