At the end of Friday's White House press briefing, a reporter noted that allowing voters to cast ballots through the mail might help protect the public from a deadly pandemic. Donald Trump balked, asserting without evidence that he believes "a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting."
The president went on to describe his ideal system of elections: "It should be: You go to a booth and you proudly display yourself." Evidently, the Republican is so committed to this principle, he believes it must be the American model, even during a pandemic, even if there are safer alternatives that are readily available and being implemented in some states.
Trump's posture is problematic for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that he voted in 2018, not by going to a booth and proudly displaying himself, but by ... wait for it ... mailing in his ballot.
This came up yesterday after the president denounced mail-in balloting as "horrible" and "corrupt." It was at this point that a reporter reminded Trump of the inconvenient detail about his own recent history.
"Mail ballots are corrupt, in my opinion," he said. But reporters pointed out that Trump has voted by mail, by absentee ballot, in his adopted state of Florida. His response: "Sure, I can vote by mail. Because I'm allowed to. That's called out of state. You know why I voted? Because I happened to be in the White House and I won't be able to go to Florida to vote."
(MSNBC posted a clip of the exchange, and it was as amusing as the transcript suggests.)
In case this isn't obvious, if a president can cast a ballot by mail because he can't get to his local precinct, there's no reason to stop other Americans from doing the same thing for the same reason.
Pressed to explain why some mail-in ballots are fine and others are "corrupt," Trump described an imagined scenario in which "you get thousands and thousands of people sitting in somebody's living room signing ballots all over the place."
First, I've never seen a living room that can hold "thousands and thousands of people," though I'll concede the president and I travel in different social circles.
Second, there's simply no evidence of the kind of systemic corruption Trump keeps talking about, despite the fact that several states have already adopted a vote-by-mail model.
Nevertheless, the stage is set for a larger fight that's almost certain to continue in the coming months. With a vaccine unlikely to arrive before November, states are going to have to grapple with how to administer elections in a way that's fair and safe for the public. Trump is making clear that he and his party will be prioritizing partisan advantages, regardless of the public-health consequences.