Donald Trump has made no secret of his disgust with voting by mail. He’s blasted the practice as creating “tremendous potential for voter fraud,” claimed it would spark “a free for all on cheating, forgery and the theft of ballots” and insisted it would create “the most CORRUPT ELECTION in our Nation’s History!” In his debate with Joe Biden, Trump spun out fictional tales of tampering, insisting that ballots were “being sold. They’re being dumped in rivers. This is a horrible thing for our country.”
It is ironic, then, that the president’s own re-election campaign has now launched a wide-reaching ad campaign on Facebook promoting absentee balloting in key swing states. These ads insist that mail-in voting can be done “SAFELY AND SECURELY.”
— Tim Dickinson (@7im) October 20, 2020
The language on these ads makes no reference to potential fraud or abuse, as Trump has. In one video ad, the president’s daughter Ivanka tells voters, “Team Trump has made it super easy for you. Just go to DonaldJTrump.com/vote. You can…request a ballot and commit to vote.” The ads point to Trump’s own success with vote-by-mail as a model: “President Trump mailed in his ballot during the primaries,” the Ivanka ad reads. “Secure your ballot the safe way today!” Another exhorts Americans to: “VOTE ABSENTEE LIKE PRESIDENT TRUMP.” (Absentee balloting and voting-by-mail are the same thing.)
At least one ad is written in Trump’s voice and insists: “Absentee ballots are GOOD. I need you to get your application and send in your absentee ballot IMMEDIATELY.” Other ads make the defeat of the Democrat in 2020 the key point of voting by mail. A $400,000 ad buy insists: “WE CANNOT LET JOE BIDEN WIN! REQUEST YOUR BALLOT.”
A review of Facebook’s ad library, which catalogs election advertising by the presidential candidates, shows that the Trump vote-by-mail blitz is comprised of more than a dozen similar ads, backed by enough money to reach millions of voters across the presidential battleground. According to metrics provided by Facebook, the messages target voters in key swing states, including Pennsylvania, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Iowa, Arizona, Maine and Wisconsin.
The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for comment on the contradiction of pushing vote-by-mail for a president who has gone so far as to say that the “disaster” of vote-by-mail could give him license to dispute the outcome of the election and not commit to a peaceful transfer of power.
There’s a growing sense of alarm in right-wing circles, however, that the president’s crusade against vote-by-mail has given Democrats a big advantage in an election shaped by social distancing. Absentee and early voting has taken off, in particular among voters registered as Democrats — 29 million Americans have already voted in the 2020 election across 45 states, according to an NBC News analysis, and Democrats hold a 14-point edge in returned ballots.