WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Friday doubled down on his concerns about mail-in voting snarling results on Election Day, warning delays and fraud could lead to “the greatest election disaster in history.”
“It’ll be fixed, it will be rigged. People ought to get smart,” Trump, without citing evidence, told reporters during a roundtable discussion with the leadership from the National Association of Police Organizations. “This is going to be the greatest election disaster in history.”
Trump appeared to go further than his suggestion Thursday that the 2020 election should be delayed because of mail-in voting. He repeated his longstanding and unproven claim that more mail-in ballots is a recipe for voter fraud and added that a postal service backlog would mar election results on Nov. 3 – a scenario some election experts say is likely due to the expected surge in mail-in ballots over concerns of spreading the coronavirus at polling places.
“They think they’re going to send hundreds of millions of ballots all over the United States and it’s gonna come out,” Trump continued. “You won’t know the election results for weeks, months, maybe years after. Maybe you’ll never know the election result. And that’s what I’m concerned with.”
Trump drew bipartisan blow back on Thursday for a tweet questioning whether the presidential election should be delayed, a decision that would require approval from Congress and was roundly dismissed by congressional Republicans and Democrats.
He later appeared to walk back that suggestion, saying he did not want to see the election delayed and that his tweet was merely raising concerns about the expansion of mail-in ballots as a fraudulent attempt to rig the election, despite several studies showing voter fraud among mail-in ballots is rare.
Out of billions of votes cast across all U.S. elections from 2000 to 2012, an analysis from the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice found only 491 cases of absentee voter fraud.
The president said he wanted to see the election take place and predicted Republicans would do well andeven suggested moving up the election date. But he insisted the government is “not prepared for an onslaught of millions of ballots pouring in.”
“We’re going to do very well in the election. Nobody wants that date more than me. I wish we’d move it up, OK?” he said.
He pointed to New York, where election officials struggled with an influx of mail-in ballots during House primary races last month, suggesting the final result may not be correct.
But not all Republicans are on board with the president’s message. Republican state parties in critical battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin are promoting vote-by-mail as an option if the pandemic spills into the fall while Trump’s own campaign has pushed state parties to encourage voters to request mail ballots.
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Trump is trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in battleground states, though analysts from both parties acknowledge there is ample time for the landscape to change. Democrats and other critics say the president’s skepticism of the election is an attempt to sow doubt if the election doesn’t go his way.
“Trump is talking about stopping the election, which he can’t do, but would if he could, because he is losing,” said Steve Schmidt, a former Republican now working against Trump’s re-election. “He is losing because he is the greatest failure in the history of the American Presidency. He is the most incompetent leader in a crisis in US history. Vote.”
Trump again endorsed the idea of absentee ballots, which are offered to seniors, the military, people with disabilities and others who are unable to vote in-person on Election Day.
The White House and Republicans have sought to draw a distinction between absentee ballots and universal mail-in voting, where ballots are mailed to all registered voters. But election experts contend that absentee and mail-in ballots are fundamentally the same thing: voting from home.
“Absentee ballots, great. Going to the polls, great,” Trump said. “If you do universal mail-ins with millions and millions of ballots, you’re never gonna know what the real result of an election is. It’s gonna be a very, very sad day for our country.”
Contributing: John Fritze, David Jackson, Joey Garrison