President Donald Trump has begun attacking absentee ballots and vote-by-mail measures, promoting disproven claims that the mail-in ballot measures will lead to “massive” fraud. In recent months, state governments have grappled with how to ensure safe access to voting while the COVID-19 pandemic threatens American lives.
Trump’s attacks on vote-by-mail may have resonated with at least some Americans, even those that have voted by mail in the past. Still, a majority supports state actions to encourage mail-in voting, and mail-in voting itself. In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, more than half of all adults (56%) approve of states sending applications for mail-in ballots to every eligible voter in their states, though half of Republicans (51%) reject state governments doing this.
Michigan mailed applications last week, and California has now done the same. The former state’s move triggered threats from President Trump to withhold federal funding to states that send applications for mail-in ballots to every voter in the state. The public overwhelmingly rejects (49% to 28%) the president’s threat. Less than half (46%) of Republicans side with the president on this — though that is more than the 30% of Republicans who disapprove.
Those who have voted by mail in the past overwhelmingly support sending everyone a ballot application, but so do a majority of those who have never done so. But Republicans overall agree with the President’s argument, and even those Republicans who have voted by mail are divided evenly on whether states should send ballot applications proactively.
About a third of all adults and about two in five (43%) registered voters have voted by mail, with Democrats and Republicans nearly equally likely to have done so (44% of registered Democrats and 39% of registered Republicans say they have voted by mail). It is especially common in the West, where five states now have only mail-in elections — Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Utah and Hawaii. Three-quarters of Western registered voters have voted by mail in the past; two-thirds plan on doing so this year. Americans approve of voting by mail two to one (60% to 29%).
The president on Tuesday tweeted “there is NO WAY (ZERO) that mail-in ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent.” He went on to say that ballots would be mailed to “anyone” living in California (they are being sent to registered voters only). In response to the misleading tweet, Twitter added a fact check section that encouraged users to "get the facts about mail-in ballots." It was the social media platform’s first effort to push back against the president’s inaccuracies.
California Governor Gavin Newsom noted that the action of mailing absentee voting applications to registered voters was taken to protect voters from the coronavirus, and that in-person voting will be available. The California Republican Party has filed a lawsuit to prevent this. The majority of voters in California already vote by mail. In 2016, 72 percent of ballots in the state were cast that way. Last week, the President deleted an earlier tweet about the Michigan mailing of ballot applications to all registered voters; he claimed Michigan was mailing ballots.
While the President’s California tweet received a fact check warning from Twitter, his claim resonates with many. A third of Americans say there is “a lot” of fraud with vote-by-mail. Just over a quarter say there is none. While Republicans are far more likely to find a lot of fraud with the method, a majority of Democrats say there is at least a little.
Those who have voted by mail in the past are somewhat less likely to see a lot of fraud in the method.
While fewer believe in-person voting results in “a lot” of fraud, three-quarters of the public believe even this method carries with it at least a little fraud, just as many as say that about vote by mail. But just under half, 44%, say vote by mail increases the chance of voter fraud, including one in three (34%) who have voted by mail in the past.