And, in a way, he could be right.
But the scam has nothing to do with the kinds of skullduggery Trump and his allies claim we should expect as a record number of Americans vote by mail due to the pandemic: supposed bribes, counterfeit ballots and other fraudulent votes. Rather, it’s because their hyperbolic and false partisan attacks, along with legal maneuvers, seek to undermine a secure system of voting, according to elections officials and analysts who spoke with CNN.
Elections experts say cases of mail-in voting fraud, and electoral fraud in general, are exceedingly rare in the US. Past attempts to commit mail-in voting fraud have generally been small, local scams that, typically, failed because of a wide array of safeguards in place to prevent and catch such efforts.
Nearly every example of alleged mail-in voting fraud that Trump and his supporters have raised is either misleading or flat-out wrong.
But attorney Scott Salmon, who represents the incumbent city council member and alleged fraud victim, said that most of the rejected 3,190 ballots had been discounted for reasons unrelated to fraud, such as not being delivered on time. He said about 900 ballots (roughly 5% of the total vote) were potentially fraudulent. Salmon said he doesn’t think the Paterson case “is relevant, almost at all” to the presidential election. In a local race, a small number of fraudulent ballots can affect the outcome. “It’s not realistic to do that on a scale that would matter for a presidential election,” he said. “And, frankly, you’re probably going to get caught,” as was the case in Paterson.
Trump has said he opposes mail-in ballots because he thinks their use favors Democrats.
“When the President says that it’s going to be fraudulent, that it’s going to be rigged, he’s speaking with absolutely no credibility. There’s no evidence of this. There’s no evidence that the states that vote all by mail have larger rates of fraudulent balloting. In fact, fraudulent balloting is rare in all states in the United States,” said Rick Hasen, an election-law scholar and the author of “Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust and the Threat to American Democracy.”
“And the reason for that,” Hasen said, “is we have all kinds of safeguards in place to make sure that people are not voting multiple times, that ballot boxes are not being stuffed, that foreign countries are not mailing in thousands of ballots.”
During his reelection bid, Trump’s campaign sued Pennsylvania in June to prevent the use of drop boxes for mail-in ballots, alleging that they are rife for fraud. But when federal district court Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan ordered the Trump campaign and the Republican Party on August 13 to show evidence of such fraud, they weren’t able to produce any. Instead, their attorneys argued that their claims “do not hinge on evidence of voter fraud actually occurring.”
Charles Stewart III, a political science professor and elections researcher at MIT, called the suit “unfortunate.”
“Drop boxes are a best practice in the Western states that have long championed and specialized in voting by mail,” he said. They eliminate “problems with the postal service or returning the ballot. It gives the voter assurance that their ballot has been received. And we know from public-opinion research that voters who return their ballots in person are more confident that their vote was counted as cast. So, there’s all sorts of good public-policy reasons to encourage drop boxes.”
“Folks should not have to put their life at risk, when we have examples in other states of expanded mail and options that work and have worked for years,” said Jason Frierson, the author of the new law and the speaker of Nevada’s state assembly. He said the new law “takes away no one’s right to vote in person.” And he said safeguards in the law, including signature verification, “have happened in other states for years and worked well.” He called the notion it’s fraudulent “a red herring.”
Nine states and the District of Columbia are using universal vote-by-mail for the November election.
Several election analysts said they worry about Trump’s efforts to cast doubt on the outcome if counting the votes takes days or even weeks to resolve. A record number of voters are expected to vote by mail; some states won’t start counting ballots until after the polls close. For these and other reasons, it is likely results in many places, including battleground states, may be delayed, they said.
“Americans and journalists need to be prepared for the fact that we may not know on election day who won,” said Myrna Perez, director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Voting Rights and Elections program. And that’s OK, she said. “If we want there to be the kind of transparency and accountability in our election systems that come from doing audits, we won’t know who won on Election Day.”
CNN’s Nelli Black, Drew Griffin and Yahya Abou-Ghazala contributed to this story.