Update: This story has been updated to include a response from the RNC.
The RNC unveiled a new video Tuesday that made several false or misleading claims about the current push to expand mail-in voting during the pandemic.
Though Republicans have been supportive of mail-in voting in the past — and some of the states that pioneered the option did so under Republican leadership — the national GOP is now fully embracing President Trump’s fear-mongering around it.
The latest video suggests that several of the security measures around mail-in voting simply don’t exist. And it alleges that the changes to elections that are necessary because of the outbreak are actually a scheme by Democrats to cheat.
The video has an an over-the-top, cartoonish style. Yet the fears the video stirs about mail-in voting could sow very real doubts about the integrity of the coming election, when voters will use mail-in voting in record numbers to cast ballots in the midst of a pandemic, whether Republicans like it or not.
By asking questions like “are you tired of driving all the way to a polling location,” the video starts off by implying that the scaling up of vote-by-mail happening across the country is being driven by laziness, rather than the necessity of coping with COVID-19.
In actuality, election officials are grappling with the need to social distance and with the fact that the same people that they normally depend on to staff polling places — usually elderly people — are particularly susceptible to the virus. With fewer people allowed in polling places and a drop in the number of voting sites that can be properly staffed, voters will face long waits to cast ballots in-person unless many of them adopt vote-by-mail instead.
In a statement to TPM about the video, the RNC said that Democrats “are using the coronavirus as an excuse to get wholesale election changes that fit their far-left agenda, but we are fighting back to protect the vote.”
“While the RNC of course supports efforts to ensure that no voters are disenfranchised due to the coronavirus, we will not stand idly by while Democrats strip away important election safeguards and throw election integrity out the window. Americans deserve to have confidence in their elections, and it is critical we work to preserve the democratic process,” the RNC said in its statement.
The RNC video then says the system has been “rigged up” to “churn out” ballots for “every living thing in the country.” Nowhere are election officials planning on sending out to ballots to everyone. In places where mail-in ballots will be sent out proactively, they’re often sent only to active votes — meaning voters who have interacted with the election system in recent years. But a vast majority of states are still requiring that voters apply for absentee ballots before they receive them.
In response to TPM’s inquiry about the claim, the RNC suggested that its qualms were with plans to send ballots to inactive voters and pointed to Democratic litigation in Nevada that resulted in ballots going to inactive registered voters in Clark County. The RNC also pointed to allegations that jurisdictions like Los Angeles County have more people on their rolls than are eligible to vote. (It’s worth noting that California will be proactively sending ballots out to only active registered voters.) The formula used to produce those allegations has been critiqued by election wonks and in court.
A string of other claims in the video follow (“more ballots than people,” “we’re mailing so many ballots, we don’t even know who they’re going to”) misleadingly painting the picture that ballots are just being sent out willy nilly.
The video then claims that ballots don’t expire until 30 days after the election. Though some jurisdictions will accept mailed ballots that are received a few days after Election Day, they all require that those ballots are postmarked either by or before Election Day.
In a response to TPM’s inquiry, the RNC said that those policies nonetheless had the potential for fraud and, by delaying the outcome, could invite unnecessary litigation.
The video also claims that there will be no signature requirement to vote absentee — another claim unmoored from reality. There has been some litigation around the ballot signature process, but typically those lawsuits haven’t aimed to remove the requirements. Rather they’ve sought to give voters an opportunity to address issues that arise if the ballot signatures don’t match the signatures on state’s records.
In response to TPM’s inquiry about the claim, the RNC again pointed to the Democrats’ Nevada lawsuit. That lawsuit asked for the ballot rejection policies to be blocked because of lack of training and standards for matching the signatures, and because Dems alleged the policy did not give enough time for voters to address issues, given the slowness of the mail. In an agreement reached with Dems ahead of the primary, Clark County didn’t eliminate the requirement but rather changed the process for reviewing and curing signature issues.
The RNC also pointed to a Democratic lawsuit Pennsylvania, which sought a more standardized process for signature matching and letting voters address issues with their signature.
Not surprisingly, much of the video also focuses on so-called “ballot harvesting” — the policy of letting third party groups or individuals collect and submit ballots on behalf of voters. The rules around ballot collection vary state to state and they have been aggressively litigated. The most famous recent example of fraudulent ballot harvesting was allegedly carried out by an operative in North Carolina who was hired by a …. Republican candidate.