Pelosi, Democrats press case for mail-in voting amid Trump attacks

Pelosi, Democrats press case for mail-in voting amid Trump attacks
© Greg Nash

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP seeks to redirect criticism over Trump tax returns House rebuffs GOP lawmaker's effort to remove references to Democrats in Capitol Grassley says disclosing Trump's tax records without authorization could violate law MORE (D-Calif.) on Thursday pressed the Democrats' case for expanding vote-by-mail across the country, escalating a fight with President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive takeaways from Trump-Biden debate clash The Memo: Debate or debacle? Democrats rip Trump for not condemning white supremacists, Proud Boys at debate MORE over how elections should be conducted in the year of the coronavirus.

The fight pits the president — who is warning, without evidence, of a vast Democratic conspiracy to scuttle his reelection bid with fraudulent mail-in ballots — against Democrats arguing for the importance of facilitating voter participation without sacrificing personal safety. 

"People should not have to choose between voting and preserving their good health and that of their families," Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol. "Because no matter what you do and when you go out, you bring it home."

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Pelosi and the Democrats secured $400 million in March to help states adopt mail-in voting amid the public health crisis. But that's just a down payment, they say, for the $4 billion required to establish such a system nationwide.

Their latest pandemic relief bill — a massive $3 trillion package approved by the House last week — contains the $3.6 billion to make up the difference.

"A small price to pay," Pelosi said, "for our democracy and the good health of Americans going to the polls."

Their proposal aims to mitigate the public safety threat surrounding elections by expanding mail-in balloting, empowering online voter registration and extending the window for early voting, to ease crowding. 

Yet where Democrats see an effort to empower a basic constitutional right, Trump sees a sinister plot to undermine his chances of winning reelection in November.

On Wednesday, after Michigan officials distributed absentee ballot applications to all registered voters, Trump accused the state's Democratic leaders of breaking the law and threatened to withhold federal funding.

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"This was done illegally and without authorization by a rogue Secretary of State," he tweeted. "I will ask to hold up funding to Michigan if they want to go down this Voter Fraud path!"

 

 

The president's charge flips traditional politics on its head: Republicans have long argued for the broad power of states to conduct elections as they see fit, outside the influence of Washington.

Additionally, a number of states around the country, including those led by Republican governors, have also issued absentee ballot applications this year. And Trump's claims were quickly debunked by fact checkers, who noted that Michigan is among 34 states that allow any voter to cast an absentee ballot without special conditions.   

Amid the debate, Democrats are accusing Trump and other GOP leaders of having their own nefarious reasons for opposing efforts to facilitate voting: Republicans, they charge, want to suppress voter participation out of fear of what the verdict would be.

"There's no reason to be afraid of the people," Pelosi said. "That's just another insecurity that exists there." 

Rep. John SarbanesJohn Peter Spyros SarbanesCongress must finish work on popular conservation bill before time runs out Congress must enact a plan to keep government workers safe The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Progress slow on coronavirus bill MORE (D-Md.), who appeared with Pelosi in the Capitol on Thursday, said there's "no evidence" to back the argument that postal balloting advantages one party over another. In fact, he said, voters in both parties support it.   

"If you look at what the public's appetite is, they want that option," Sarbanes said. "So I' not sure why the president would want to get sideways with the broad public in terms of that priority."

Even some Republicans have rejected the claims that voting by mail somehow disadvantages the GOP. Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyBiden's debate game plan? Keep cool and win President Trump faces Herculean task in first debate HBO's Oliver laments 'dark week' after Barrett nomination: 'Hopeless' MORE (R) noted this week that his state of Utah — one of five states where voting is done almost entirely by mail — continues to send Republicans to Washington.

"In my state, I'll bet 90 percent of us vote by mail. It works very, very well and it's a very Republican state," Romney said Wednesday, according to ABC News

Yet Romney appears to be a lonely voice among Senate Republicans who have largely opposed the notion of expanding vote-by-mail, particularly as part of any response to the coronavirus crisis, which they deem a separate issue.  

Democrats reject that argument, pointing to Wisconsin's primary elections earlier this year as a cautionary tale. There, state officials pushed ahead with the primary contests as scheduled. Thousands reportedly stayed at home out of safety concerns, while thousands more gathered at the polls. Dozens later tested positive for COVID-19.  

"Central to the life of our democracy is removing obstacles of participation to voting," Pelosi said. "And now, even more so, when voting can be a risk to your health."