Donald Trump continues to both demonize the idea of vote by mail and dismantle the U.S. Postal Service, and it’s making a predictable mess. The House Oversight and Reform Committee is calling new Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to testify about changes to the Postal Service, but they’re letting that testimony wait until September 17, because apparently this isn’t super urgent, even though “While these changes in a normal year would be drastic, in a presidential election year when many states are relying heavily on absentee mail-in ballots, increases in mail delivery timing would impair the ability of ballots to be received and counted in a timely manner—an unacceptable outcome for a free and fair election,” as committee Chair Carolyn Maloney wrote to DeJoy.
But while the concrete damage Trump is doing to the on-time delivery of mail in this country is a disaster, the effects of his constant ranting against mail voting on his fellow Republicans are kind of hilarious. Because the thing is, more Republicans than Democrats traditionally mail in their ballots … or did, until Trump went to work.
Local Republican Party organizations and officials are desperately trying to reassure their voters that it’s okay to vote by mail.
“Please don’t confuse North Carolina’s absentee system with other states’ all-mail elections,” the Johnston County, North Carolina, Republican Party told supporters on Facebook. “NCGOP and JoCo GOP agrees with the President that our current absentee ballot request system is safe and secure.” But a vocal fraction of commenters were not having it, because it is now no longer The Republican Way to vote by mail, even in a pandemic.
At a recent meeting with Republicans, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill found confusion that can be directly traced to Trump’s efforts to distinguish voting by mail, which is bad, from absentee voting by mail, which he does and is therefore good. “They were confused about two different kinds of mail-in balloting,” Merrill told The Washington Post, “where one is ‘good’ and one is not.”
But don’t look for the concerns of local Republicans to sway Trump. He has something more important in mind: his own interests. “Some advisers acknowledged privately that the president may be laying the groundwork to claim the election was rigged if he loses in November,” the Post reports.
Both polls and early ballot requests show that Democrats are eager to mail in their ballots while Republicans are opposed. Will the determination to vote in person no matter what because Trump said so be enough to put Republican voters in long lines on Election Day, an experience more typically reserved for voters of color and low-income voters? Will it reduce overall Republican turnout? If we weren’t worried about the Postal Service having the resources and management needed to get ballots to election officials on schedule, the Republican dilemma might almost be funny, given that it’s so fully self-created. As it is, though, Trump is every day laying waste to the legitimacy of this election and of U.S. democracy more generally.