TALLAHASEE, Fla. – After condemning mail-in voting for months, President Donald Trump is now encouraging Floridians to cast their ballots by mail, assuring in a social media post Tuesday that the state’s election system “is Safe and Secure.”
The Republican president has repeatedly linked mail-in ballots with fraud and erroneously claimed last week that elections officials have sent out "hundreds of millions of universal mail-in ballots" throughout the nation.
But Trump more than once has singled out Florida --- a crucial battleground state --- as an exemplar of how mail-in voting should be conducted. He doubled down on the message in a Tuesday tweet.
“Whether you call it Vote by Mail or Absentee Voting, in Florida the election system is Safe and Secure, Tried and True,” Trump wrote. “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! #MAGA”
Florida requires voters to request mail-in ballots before elections officials can provide them. The state adopted its “no-excuse” absentee-voting system in 2002, and in 2016 switched the name from “absentee” to “vote-by-mail.”
Mike Hogan, the Duval County supervisor of elections, says the process in Florida is safe as it can be and that voters should vote with confidence.
“There are just a lot of old wives’ tales that are sitting out there that make these voters think well maybe this is not safe. It’s safe,” Hogan said. “But there are so many moving parts. It’s not as safe as... the guy standing there in front of you with an ID and getting his ballot and walking right to the tabulator. That’s three steps instead of 15.”
“In Florida, you have to request the ballot,” explained News4Jax political analyst Rick Mullaney. “In some states, they will simply proactively send it to you if you’re a registered voter. Well, registered voters die, registered voters move, registered voters can change party affiliations.”
As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the country, election officials in Florida and elsewhere are urging voters to cast ballots from home. Officials expect more than double the usual number of Floridians to vote by mail during the state’s Aug. 18 primary elections and the Nov. 3 general election, when Trump will be at the top of the GOP ticket.
Trump’s social media post drew immediate scrutiny from news outlets, political commentators and Florida lawmakers.
“Could this reversal have something to do with the @FlaDems being up by more than 600,000 vote-by-mail requests in Florida? False attacks on vote-by-mail have backfired and now it’s cleanup on aisle 9,” Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg, a former Democratic state senator, said on Twitter.
But Republicans backed Trump’s tweet.
“President @realDonaldTrump says Florida’s Vote-by-Mail system is ‘safe and secure.’ The president mailed in his ballot in the past and will likely do it again. Request your Vote-by-Mail ballot, today!” the Republican Party of Florida tweeted.
For years, Republicans, who control both chambers of the state Legislature, have relied on voting by mail to boost GOP turnout and make inroads in legislative and statewide races.
But, as the coronavirus continues to rage, Democrats this year are engaging in a major vote-by-mail push.
According to the state Division of Elections website, 1,368,889 Democrats had requested vote-by-mail ballots as of Tuesday, compared to 904,733 requests by Republican voters. Also, 612,786 voters with no party affiliation had requested mail-in ballots.
Democrats also had eclipsed Republicans in returning the ballots by nearly 130,000 votes, the state numbers showed. As of Tuesday, 427,330 Republicans and 555,989 Democrats had voted by mail in the primaries.
Trump has repeatedly castigated the vote-by-mail process, even suggesting in a tweet last week that the election should be postponed due to the pandemic.
“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” Trump tweeted. “It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
Trump appeared to be singling out states that have decided to send mail-in ballots or applications to all registered voters. In contrast, Floridians have to request mail-in ballots.
Elections experts maintain that fraudulent voting is very rare.
A handful of states conduct elections solely by mail. Amid the pandemic, elections officials in some places are sending absentee-ballot applications to all registered voters. Many states have expanded their elections laws to allow voters to cast their ballots from home.
During a Tuesday press conference, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended Trump’s tweet about Florida.
“The president has always said that absentee voting for a reason is different than mass mail-out voting, like what Nevada is seeking to do, which leads to mass fraud,” McEnany said. “And also, I’d refer you to the campaign on this, but there was a victory in Florida with regard to ballots, I believe that’s what he was referencing.”
Trump may have been referring to a Florida lawsuit filed this year by left-leaning groups including Priorities USA and the Dream Defenders that sought to expand the state’s vote-by-mail procedures.
Among other things, the plaintiffs asked to extend a deadline for mail-in ballots to be returned. They also wanted free postage for the ballots and challenged a provision in Florida law restricting paid workers from collecting mail-in ballots.
The plaintiffs dropped the lawsuit, however, after reaching a settlement with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration.
Under the agreement, Secretary of State Laurel Lee pledged to “educate” and “encourage” county supervisors of elections about a variety of vote-by-mail procedures that were at the heart of the legal challenge.
--- News Service staff writer Jim Turner contributed to this report.