Why The White House Shouldn’t Cite Jimmy Carter In Voter Fraud Claims

Former President Jimmy Carter (Photo by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
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May 21, 2020 3:08 p.m.

To undergird President Donald Trump’s Wednesday tweet storm about punishing states that expand voting by mail, the White House cited a report produced in 2005 by a commission co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter. 

“There was a 2005 commission by none other than President Carter, who is not a member of the Republican Party, and also by James Baker about this, concluding that these ballots ‘remain the largest source of potential voter fraud’,” said Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany at a Wednesday press conference. “So this is a concern, the President’s right to look at this.”

But, the Commission on Federal Election Reform’s findings were more complex than McEnany presents. 

The Commission found that the potential for vote by mail fraud increases when security measures are weak, and when candidates or party activists are given access to the ballots. 

But the report’s authors specifically advise that states not discourage get-out-the vote efforts for those that can legally vote by mail.

Soyia Ellison, spokeswoman for the Carter Center, told TPM that McEnany took the line out of context.

“The commission’s main recommendations on vote-by-mail and absentee voting were to increase research on vote-by-mail (and early voting) and to eliminate the practice of allowing candidates or party workers to pick up and deliver absentee ballots,” the Carter Center said in a statement.

And since 2005, as states gained more experience with voting by mail, those concerns have lessened, it added. 

Recently, Carter has come out as a vocal proponent for states expanding their vote by mail apparatuses as the coronavirus pandemic makes traditional, in-person voting a serious health risk.

“I urge political leaders across the country to take immediate steps to expand vote-by-mail and other measures that can help protect the core of American democracy – the right of our citizens to vote,” the former President said in a statement this month.

Trump, often joined by his Republican allies, has become a strong vote-by-mail antagonist, despite recently casting an absentee ballot himself. He frequently alleges that the method will encourage widespread voter fraud, which experts dispute, and candidly voices his belief that expanded opportunities for voting help Democrats.

Some states are struggling to ramp up their vote-by-mail systems before the November elections, as many are expected to vote remotely amid the pandemic. In Wisconsin, for example, the state elections commission warned in a recent report that if absentee voting patterns follow those set in their early April election, the surge in volume would “present terrific challenges for Wisconsin election officials at all levels.”

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