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Trump's fear and loathing of voting by mail in the age of COVID

Trump's fear and loathing of voting by mail in the age of COVID
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Republicans, led by an imperiled President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign slams Facebook after thousands of ads blocked by platform's pre-election blackout Mnuchin says he learned of Pelosi's letter to him about stimulus talks 'in the press' Harris to travel to Texas Friday after polls show tie between Trump, Biden MORE, are devising new ways to limit voting this fall, seeking to capitalize on the fears of COVID-19.

They are not resting on their political deeds of recent times in which voter lists have been pared, burdensome voter identification requirements enacted, early voting selectively curtailed, and the postal service — run by a Trump ally — accused of impeding mail voting.

The deadly pandemic places a premium on voting by mail. Republicans, however, are thwarting this, limiting drop boxes, used to deposit early ballots and a protection against postal service snafus, and trying to make it harder to get or even apply for ballots.

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This is part of a concerted Trump effort to create chaos and sow confusion as tools to limit voting. He has railed against mail voting as fraud-ridden — except in Florida where he thinks it advantages him. In North Carolina last week, he urged his supporters to vote by mail and then again in person. That is illegal.

The tirades against mail voting, embraced by his Attorney General, are purely political; there is no evidence of real fraud in voting by mail over the years. There is clear evidence of a partisan divide between Democrats, or likely Biden voters and Trump's Republican base. Ann Selzer's recent national survey for Grinnell College, found 59 percent of Biden voters said they plan to vote early, while only 29 percent of Trump voters plan to.

In any event, overall, many more voters — fearing the pandemic — will opt for mail ballots. With possible snafus at the Postal Service, delayed or misplaced ballots, an alternative is drop boxes where ballots can be deposited and gathered by election officials. They have been widely used, most notably in the primaries this year, and can be made secure.

In keeping with Trump's messages, the Missouri Republican Secretary of State has ruled drop boxes can't be used this fall, claiming the law says "mail" and drop boxes would cause confusion. The boxes the state paid for will be put in storage. The Republican Secretary of State in Iowa sought a similar rule, but after protests backtracked a little and ruled they could be used only at county buildings.

Iowa and Missouri are two states most at risk for a COVID-19 surge in weeks ahead, the NIH's Dr. Anthony FauciAnthony FauciListening to experts isn't perfect, but ignoring them is far worse Fauci: Maybe 2022 before US sees 'some semblances of normality' Fauci expresses support for national mask mandate MORE has warned.

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The Ohio Republicans went a similar route, limiting boxes to one per county. That means in some of those geographically large counties in more rural Ohio, like in Iowa, voters might have to drive an hour or more to drop off their vote. In congested big cities like Cleveland, the problems would be different but as difficult.

The GOP anti drop box movement may fail in Pennsylvania, where the final decision will rest with the Democratic-controlled state Supreme Court. The Trump administration wants the federal courts involved, though they may be reluctant to override state courts. The other issue under litigation is whether absentee ballots have to be received by election night or just postmarked by then and received several days later.

Voting advocates worry about postal delays negating ballots; ironically, if successful that could delay the results in a big state the Democrats expect to carry.

With the need for social distancing for any in-person voting, more than a dozen National Basketball Association teams are offering their spacious arenas as voting sites. Republican officials in Miami and Memphis rejected the offer.

These controversies and this election is a bonanza for lawyers on all sides. Much of it rests with Trump/Republican efforts to block easier access to voting.

In Montana, Gov. Steve BullockSteve BullockGOP sees path to hold Senate majority Interior says Pendley to remain at BLM despite 'dramatic tweets' from Democrats Democrat trails by 3 points in Montana Senate race: poll MORE, who also is the Democratic nominee for a Senate seat, wants to allow counties — if they chose — to conduct mail voting. The Trump campaign has gone to court to block what they described as a "power grab," which actually is intended to facilitate voting in a pandemic.

There are few more egregious examples of attempted voter suppression than Harris County — Houston — Texas, where the county clerk, a Democrat, was planning to send absentee ballot information and applications to registered voters. These aren't ballots — just how and when to apply for one. On Aug. 31, the Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit to block sending absentee ballot applications to registered voters, charging that it was an effort to "manipulate the integrity of the election" and “enable non-citizens to vote."

Paxton, who is under indictment for securities fraud, managed to overlook that this information was being sent to registered voters.

The real motive is clear: "This is an attempt to discourage people from voting," says Myrna Perez, director of voting rights and elections at the Brennan Center.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.