As President Donald Trump attacks the legitimacy of elections with increased mail-in voting, his campaign is trying to make it easier for supporters in Pennsylvania to request mail-in ballots for next week's primary there.
Through its website, the Trump campaign is providing Pennsylvania supporters with an easy access link to help them request ballots for next week's election. By clicking the link, supporters are prompted to enter their personal information which the website then uses to create a form that voters can send to their local election officials. The website also notes the deadline to register.
Trump has railed against efforts to boost mail-in voting as states try to keep large crowds away from the polls amid the outbreak. He's insisted there's "NO WAY" an election that sees such a rise in mail-in voting will be legitimate.
The campaign says there's no contradiction between that and the president's extensive commentary on mail-in voting, which they said was focused on the process of mailing ballots to all voters amid the coronavirus pandemic, not on individually requesting the mail-in forms.
"There’s a vast difference between people voting absentee by mail because they can’t be at the polls on Election Day versus mailing everyone a ballot," Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh told NBC News. "Sending everyone a ballot — even those who didn’t request one — is a wide open opportunity for fraud."
"While we strongly disagree with the ill-intended Democrat push for more mail-in ballots, we have an obligation to our voters to inform them of what the law is in their state and what their options are," he added.
Murtaugh did not immediately respond when asked whether the campaign is engaging in similar efforts in other states with upcoming primaries where requesting absentee ballots to vote by mail is necessary.
Both Democratic and Republican officials overseeing that process told NBC News that Trump is dead wrong and outlined the steps they take — most importantly, signature verification — to ensure the integrity of the system.
Trump's claims of voter fraud are not backed by the historical record, as officials noted, and Twitter on Tuesday attached a fact-check to the president's Twitter commentary for the first time, labeling his posts as "unsubstantiated" and linking to articles debunking the claims.
Researchers at UCLA and the University of New Mexico, in conjunction with the Union of Concerned Scientists, concluded that voter fraud is "not widespread" and that mail-in ballot fraud is "very rare."
Stanford University's Democracy & Polarization Lab found that universal vote-by-mail has "no impact on partisan turnout or vote share."
A California special congressional election this month determined mostly by mail-in ballots saw Republican Mike Garcia defeat Democrat Christy Smith in a district where Democrats held a registration advantage.
Critics have zeroed in on Trump himself having voted absentee through the mail, including earlier this year in Florida.
"We can't do that," the president said Tuesday of expanded mail-in voting. "Absentee is OK: You're sick. You're away. As an example, I have to do an absentee because I'm voting in Florida, and I happen to be president. I live in that very beautiful house over there that's painted white. So that's OK. And it's OK for people that are sick and they can't get up."
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who has defended the president's commentary on mail-in voting in recent days, has voted by mail 11 times in the past decade, The Tampa Bay Times reported Wednesday.
"Absentee voting has the word absent in it for a reason," McEnany said in a statement in response. "It means you’re absent from the jurisdiction or unable to vote in person. President Trump is against the Democrat plan to politicize the coronavirus and expand mass mail-in voting without a reason, which has a high propensity for voter fraud. This is a simple distinction that the media fails to grasp."
In Pennsylvania, local GOP leaders have promoted mail-in voting, but have been met with pushback from Republican voters, Reuters reported this month.
Mark Hrutkay, chairman of the Washington County GOP, remind voters on Facebook this month of the mail-in option and was met with an earful of angry responses from Trump supporters.
"I had one woman, using a lot of four-letter words, tell me, 'Didn’t you know Trump hates mail-in balloting?'" Hrutkay told Reuters.
Nearly 1.2 million Pennsylvania voters had applied for the absentee ballots as of May 13, about 14 times as many as had done so in 2016, Reuters reported, citing state data.
The Pennsylvania election next week includes the presidential primary. It's a pivotal swing state, one that Trump won by just 45,000 votes in 2016 over the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton.