Administration

Trump shifts, encourages vote by mail — in Florida

President Trump on Tuesday encouraged voters in Florida to vote by mail, saying the state's election system is "safe and secure" after weeks of assailing efforts to expand mail-in voting by claiming that it would invite large-scale fraud.

"Whether you call it Vote by Mail or Absentee Voting, in Florida the election system is Safe and Secure, Tried and True," Trump tweeted. "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."

The remarks appeared to represent a shift or at a minimum a change in tone for Trump, who has repeatedly suggested that increased mail-in voting could lead to voter fraud, despite a lack of evidence that mailed-in ballots lead to criminal activity.

Republicans also have grown worried that Trump's attacks on mail-in voting could actually suppress the GOP vote in the upcoming election.

Trump just last week suggested delaying the November election - something the president does not have the power to do - as he leveled new attacks on mail-in voting. He claimed at the time that  2020 would be the "most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history" if universal mail-in voting were implemented. Experts say that there is no evidence of meaningful fraud in mail-in voting, despite the president's frequent attacks.

The White House and Trump campaign, however, said Trump had been consistent in approving of absentee voting while raising concerns about expanded mail-in voting.

Asked at a briefing later Tuesday what had changed Trump's view, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters the president has often made a distinction between absentee voting and "mass mail-out voting," the latter of which she said would lead to fraud.

"He's been unmistakably clear that when you have this mass mail-out voting like what Nevada wants to do, the consequences are real," McEnany said.

The Trump campaign said the tweet spoke for itself.

"What most states call 'absentee voting' has long been termed 'vote-by-mail' in Florida - it's been that way for years, and it works," Trump campaign spokeswoman Thea McDonald said in a statement. "President Trump is fighting to make sure every valid vote counts-the exact opposite of what's happened in New York's and California's train wreck primaries, where we saw Democrats' rush to implement a faulty universal vote-by-mail system."

Experts say that both absentee ballots and mail-in ballots are treated the same way, however.

Trump in his tweet appeared to be referencing last month's settlement between voting rights groups and the state of Florida over a suit in which the groups sought an extension to the deadline for mail-in ballots, among other changes. The settlement involved the state pledging to work with county supervisors to educate voters on vote-by-mail and encourage maximum use of early voting days. Both the voting rights groups and the Florida GOP, which had intervened on behalf of the state, described the settlement as a victory for their respective parties.

Florida is an important battleground state that Trump won in 2016. Recent polls have shown the president trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in Florida, including a Quinnipiac poll released in late July that found Biden with a double-digit lead over the president in the Sunshine State.

Several states have expanded mail-in voting in order to allow citizens to cast ballots during the coronavirus pandemic without going to the polls, where they could be at risk of catching or spreading the virus.

Trump, however, has assailed some states that have expanded mail-in voting. On Monday, he threatened a legal challenge to Nevada's new law that would automatically send mail-in ballots to eligible voters during the pandemic. Trump has previously threatened federal funding to Michigan and Nevada over efforts to expand mail-in voting. Both states are battlegrounds that are run by Democratic governors.

The president calls Florida home after changing his place of residence last year. Trump himself voted by mail in the Florida primary this year and has also done so in New York, his previous place of residence. Florida is among a handful states that have recently experienced a surge in coronavirus infections, forcing the president to cancel plans to hold GOP convention events in Jacksonville later this month.

--This report was updated at 2:01 p.m.

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