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Trump backs off mail voting attacks in Florida as Democrats build huge advantage

David Smiley, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI -- After claiming inaccurately for weeks that mail voting is rife with fraud, President Donald Trump is now backing off his attacks on mail ballots in his home state.

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

Trump's tweet -- in stark contrast to numerous others in recent weeks warning of a rigged election -- comes as Republican mail ballot registration lags behind Democrats in Florida ahead of the November election, which will be held under the cloud of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Republicans have requested about 1.3 million mail ballots ahead of the Aug. 18 primary election, while Democrats have requested 1.9 million. Democrats have held up their lead as a significant achievement in a state where Republicans have for years held the advantage in registering and turning out mail voters.

That gap has widened noticeably since Trump began to assail mail voting in reaction to efforts by different states to automatically send mail ballots to all registered voters as a means to avoid Election Day voting crowds and the spread of COVID-19. Since then, isolated instances of mail ballot fraud have been caught around the U.S., but experts continue to say that systemic election fraud is rare.

Trump, who votes by mail in Florida, has repeatedly argued that Florida's mail ballot program is appropriate because it is an "absentee" system by which voters receive ballots when they can't vote in person because they are away. In fact, a mail ballot is available to any Florida voter who requests one.

The Republican Party of Florida has tried to seize on Trump's "absentee" wording in recent efforts to register new mail voters, highlighting only a select portion of a recent Trump tweet that touted absentee voting but trashed mail ballots.

"The president has always said absentee voting for a reason is different than mass mail-out voting like what Nevada is seeking to do, which leads to mass fraud," White House Spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told reporters Tuesday at the White House, referring to a bill signed Monday by Nevada's governor sending mail ballots to all registered voters.

 

But Florida's Republican-led Legislature authorized no-excuse mail voting in 2002, and in 2016 voted to replace "absentee" with "vote-by-mail" in state statutes. There are more than 4 million voters in the state who have requested a mail ballot -- more than double the number of all voters in the state of Nevada.

"I'm not concerned about mail in voting in Florida," U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, told reporters Saturday during a conference call set up by Trump's campaign.

At the White House Tuesday, McEnany, who also votes by mail in Florida, said Trump, in his tweet, alluded to a recently settled court case over vote-by-mail processing regulations, including a challenge to allow Florida's supervisors of elections extra time after Election Day to continue tabulating mail ballots.

"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," Trump tweeted.

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