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As he attacks mail-in votes, Trump and the first lady requested absentee ballots in Florida

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 8/14/2020 Jaclyn Peiser
Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: President Donald Trump speaks at a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) © Andrew Harnik/AP President Donald Trump speaks at a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

On Thursday, President Trump repeated his attacks against mail balloting, saying it would lead to “the greatest rigged election in history” and “the greatest fraud ever perpetrated.”

At the same time, his own absentee ballot to vote in Florida’s primary election on Tuesday was en route to Mar-a-Lago. According to the Palm Beach County elections website, the president and first lady Melania Trump both requested absentee ballots on Wednesday.

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Trump has voted absentee at least twice before. But his latest ballot request comes amid escalating attacks on mail voting by the president and his administration. On Thursday, Trump said that he opposes an emergency bailout for the U.S. Postal Service and election aid for states to restrict how many Americans can vote by mail.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Judd Deere told CNN that Trump is in favor of absentee voting, but “not universal mail-in voting, which contain several safeguards that prevent fraud and abuse.”

The president has also argued that absentee ballots are substantially different from voting by mail.

“Absentee ballots, by the way, are fine,” Trump told reporters on Thursday. “But the universal mail-ins that are just sent all over the place, where people can grab them and grab stacks of them, and sign them and do whatever you want, that’s the thing we’re against.”

But election experts recently told The Washington Post that there is no real distinction between absentee ballots and voting by mail. The fact that the terms are often used interchangeably has confused some Republican voters — a concern for party leaders worried about low turnout this fall.

Trump has also claimed that Florida is uniquely qualified to handle mailed in ballots, arguing that the state has the most experience with the process. But five states already conducted statewide elections through mail-in voting, even before the pandemic.

Trump previously voted absentee in Florida’s primary in March, despite being in the area at the time, and also voted absentee in New York in 2018. He attempted to vote absentee in 2017 in the New York mayoral election, but he listed the wrong birth date.

The Post found that 15 other Trump officials have also voted by mail. Attorney General William P. Barr, who has echoed Trump’s rhetoric against mail-in voting, voted absentee in 2019 and 2012 in Virginia. Vice President Pence voted absentee in 2018 for both the primary and general elections, and mailed a ballot for the 2020 Indiana GOP primary. Trump, the first lady, and Ivanka Trump were also previously caught filling out absentee applications incorrectly, adding credence to the idea that the system works to root out problems.

Since March, Trump has made more than 80 attacks against the election’s integrity, often repeating unproven accusations that there have been widespread cases of vote fraud. In a tweet in late May, which Twitter labeled with a fact check and warning that the unsubstantiated claims “could confuse voters,” Trump said mail-in voting would be widespread chicanery, claiming that “Mailboxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed.”

With the novel coronavirus showing no signs of letting up by November, election officials from dozens of states have fought to make mail-in voting a viable alternative to going to polling stations, where there is a risk of transmitting the virus. According to a tracker from The Post, 76 percent of voters will be able to vote by mail.

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But funding shortfalls for the U.S. Postal Service are now threatening the viability of voting by mail. In an interview with Fox Business on Thursday, Trump told host Maria Bartiromo that he opposed any deal with the Democrats that would help bail out the Postal Service.

“They need that money to make the post office work, so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots,” Trump said.

Democrats swiftly went after the president for the quotes, alleging that his attacks on mail-in ballots and Postal Service funding amount to an attempt to undermine the election. “The president is afraid of the American people,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “He’s been afraid for a while. He knows that, on the legit, it’d be hard for him to win.”

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