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Trump abruptly flip-flopped on voting by mail — here’s why

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Donald Trump (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

President Donald Trump and his allies have been waging a disinformation campaign about mail-in voting, aggressively trying to delegitimize the practice that has a history in the United States dating back to the Civil War. The plan, as I’ve argued, seems to be to lay the groundwork for challenging mail-in votes or stopping them from being counted if it looks like he’s ahead with in-person ballots on Election Day.

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But on Tuesday afternoon, the president suddenly changed his tune on the matter in one key state: Florida. He sent the following tweet:

The tweet references a dubious distinction that Trump has himself been trying to draw between absentee and mail-in ballots. In many jurisdictions, they’re the same thing, though absentee ballots can refer to a subset of mail-in ballots that require the voter to provide an excuse for not voting in person, such as being out of town on Election. But any concerns about mail-in ballots would apply to absentee ballots, so the president’s attempt to draw a distinction makes little sense.

It made even less sense in Florida — where, as it happens, the president votes by mail under suspicious circumstances — because Florida doesn’t have a special category of “absentee” ballots. Anyone who wants to vote by mail can do so.

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So why has the president changed his tune and given the green light to mail-in voting in Florida? MSNBC’s Chris Hayes had a plausible answer:

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Brian Beutler of Crooked Media added:

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As NPR reported Monday, Joe Biden’s prospects in Florida look promising. If Trump loses there, he’s almost certainly lost the entire race:

…Biden has gone from a 49% to 48% polling advantage in early February to 50% to 44%, with some reputable surveys showing Biden with a double-digit lead. This is one state we expect to snap back to toss-up, but right now it’s leaning in Biden’s direction.

So abandoning the supposedly principled objection he’s had to mail-in voting for months, Trump has decided to encourage his voters to drop their ballots in the post. It may be the tactically correct move — it just comes at the cost of completely undermining his attempt to delegitimize the process. He began with such little credibility outside his support base that he may not care.

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But the Washington Post’s Greg Sergent noted that Trump’s tweet almost certainly doesn’t signal an end to his war against mail-in votes — at least not in any state where he thinks it works to his advantage. Republican lawyers will continue to fight to restrict access to mail-in voting on his behalf:


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