President Donald Trump’s election campaign put out an ominous statement Monday, making clear that it is going to fight to make sure every vote will not be counted.
“The [Democratic] operatives are advising surrogates and media to create a smoke screen by casting blame all around — imagining postal delays or falsely claiming that mail-in ballots that have simply not been returned should be considered legitimate votes that need to be counted. None of this will be true, but it will be held up as proof that President Trump’s victory is a so-called ‘Red Mirage.’ No one should fall for it,” read the statement from Justin Clark, Trump deputy campaign manager.
For months, Trump has declared that he believes the winner should be declared on election night.
“Must know Election results on the night of the Election, not days, months, or even years later!” he declared on July 30.
Clark added on Monday that campaign officials “fully anticipate that Democrats will be in court arguing to extend deadlines for accepting and counting votes mailed and received well past deadlines enacted by individual state laws. ... The last gasp of the Biden campaign will be ugly and it will be ruthless.”
But in many cases, it will be impossible to know the results on election night. A number of states accept ballots that arrive by mail after Election Day, as long as they are postmarked on or before Nov. 3. Some states aren’t even allowed to start counting ballots that arrive by mail until Election Day, making it almost certain that the results will be delayed.
But a day before the election, the Trump campaign is underscoring that it is going to fight delayed ballots ― even though such ballots are legal and legitimate.
“In states that do not permit election officials to process absentee ballots until Election Day, the process of accurately counting all valid votes will inevitably take time, given the millions of absentee ballots in a state such as Pennsylvania,” said Rick Pildes, an election law expert at New York University School of Law. “This is exactly what voters should expect: the ballots must be verified, to ensure they are valid, and then counted. It is inevitable that will take time in states that start as late as Pennsylvania.”
Postal delays are a very real problem. Absentee ballots are taking longer to reach election offices in swing states than in other parts of the country, according to The Washington Post.
Over the summer, Trump funder and new postmaster general Louis DeJoy implemented cost-cutting measures, which were challenged in court over concerns that they could delay ballots being sent out and returned. He called off some of those changes, but mail service was significantly delayed in the five weeks they were in effect.
Republicans have fought to make it significantly harder to vote during the pandemic, believing that the more people vote, the more likely it is that Democrats will do well.
In March, Trump himself lamented that Democrats in Congress were trying to provide more funding to increase vote-by-mail options, saying, “The things they had in there were crazy. They had ... levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
In Alabama, the Republican secretary of state fought curbside voting for people who may be immunocompromised ― and thus may not want to stand in a line with other people during the pandemic. The Republican governor of Texas limited the number of ballot collection boxes to one per county, meaning some populous counties had to get rid of 11 of their boxes to comply with the governor’s rule making it harder for people to vote. And so on.
The “Red Mirage” referenced by Clark refers to a very real possibility that election results coming in on Nov. 3 make it look like Trump is leading Democrat Joe Biden, or at least doing better than polls predicted. The Trump campaign wants those results to be the final word.
But those results are not the end, since mail-in ballots will still be counted after Election Day. They could benefit Biden more because Democrats have been doing more to encourage voting by mail.
Some state Republicans in places like Florida ― where the GOP has traditionally had a strong vote-by-mail operation ― recognized the problem with Trump’s fear-mongering about absentee voting and tried to counter it by sending out robocalls and mailers encouraging people that the method was safe.
“Under no scenario will Donald Trump be declared a ... victor on election night,” Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon told reporters Monday, “and we think that that’s really fundamental to how we want to approach tomorrow.”