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Washington, Idaho lawmakers from both sides of the aisle challenge Trump suggestion of election delay

UPDATED: Thu., July 30, 2020

A Miami-Dade County Elections Department employee places a vote-by-mail ballot into a box for rejected ballots Thursday at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department.  (Lynne Sladky)
A Miami-Dade County Elections Department employee places a vote-by-mail ballot into a box for rejected ballots Thursday at the Miami-Dade County Elections Department. (Lynne Sladky)
By Laurel Demkovich and Orion Donovan-Smith The Spokesman-Review

Washington lawmakers and elections officials from both sides of the aisle challenged President Donald Trump’s Thursday morning tweet suggesting the United States should delay the November election, saying the president does not have the power to push back an election and that the vote-by-mail system is secure.

Trump’s tweet called universal vote-by-mail “inaccurate and fraudulent” and called for a delay in the election until “people can properly, securely and safely vote.”

The suggestion is the latest in a series of attacks from the president on the security of a vote-by-mail system during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump has claimed ballots would be stolen from mailboxes and that universal vote-by-mail would prevent Republicans from winning future elections.

As of Thursday, 16 states and the District of Columbia have changed how they will allow people to vote by either switching to an all-mail system or allowing residents to vote absentee without an excuse. Washington state has made vote-by-mail an option for counties since 2005, with the system becoming statewide in 2011, according to the Secretary of State’s office.

As for changing the date of the election, only Congress can do so , Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman said in an interview with The Spokesman-Review, and she doubts lawmakers would delay it.

If Congress did decide to push it back, elections officials would do whatever was needed, said Wyman, a Republican. For now, however, elections officials are completely focused on ensuring a successful Nov. 3 election.

“We should make sure everyone can vote and can vote safely,” Wyman said.

Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers from Washington and Idaho also said Thursday that the general election will take place as scheduled.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, stressed the importance of investing in elections infrastructure and allowing the country to vote by mail, using her speech to push for legislation that would allow more citizens to vote by mail and provide money to help states improve their elections’ cybersecurity.

She urged the president to advocate for more aid to ensure poll workers and voters are healthy and able to conduct an election safely.

“Stop trying to cancel the election based on the success of what has empowered more Americans to vote, and be involved and be educated in our democracy,” Cantwell said. “Let America vote.”

Cantwell also said she was glad that Senate Republicans did not support the idea of delaying the election.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a tweet that voting-by-mail is legitimate, safe and secure. She also criticized Trump for suggesting it is too dangerous to have an election while pressing students to return to schools in the fall.

Democrat Rep. Kim Schrier said Washington knows mail-in voting works and is the safest approach during a pandemic.

“This is a dangerous statement from the president that will only sow confusion and distrust in the system,” Schrier wrote in a statement.

Idaho senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, both Republicans, said the election will proceed as scheduled and that there is no legislation in Congress to change that.

“I trust Idaho election officials to ensure proper safety protocols to ensure all eligible Idaho citizens have access to the ballot box this November,” a statement from Crapo read.

While Idaho congressman Russ Fulcher, a Republican, said in a statement that he was confident in his state’s ability to have in-person voting without delaying the election date, he said absentee voting should be the exception, not the rule.

“A universal mail-in voting system would greatly increase chances for fraud and inaccuracy in our elections,” Fulcher said.

Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said the signature verification in Washington ensures that fraudulent ballots are not tabulated. It would be very difficult to try to forge a signature or vote twice.

“There are a lot of protections on the ballot,” Dalton said.

Dalton said Trump’s attacks on the security of the vote-by-mail system show his lack of understanding of the process.

Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement that there is no evidence that mail-in ballots increase voter fraud. He called Trump’s statement “undemocratic, un-American, and sadly, entirely predictable.”

Ferguson said his legal team has been preparing for the possibility that the president might attempt to delay the election.

“If that happens, we will see President Trump in court – and we will win,” Ferguson wrote.

During a Thursday news conference, Gov. Jay Inslee said Washington’s history of mail-in voting demonstrates its effectiveness and security.

“I wish the president actually would ask someone, who knows of what they speak. … Voting by mail improves democracy by improving access to the ballot box,” he said. “It’s a system people believe in – Democrats, Republicans, independents and every other group – because it works.”

Representatives Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Republicans who represent Central and Eastern Washington, said Congress should not delay the election, though McMorris Rodgers said she has concerns about other states rushing into statewide mail-in ballots.

Wyman said she has been sharing Washington’s vote-by-mail practices with other states to ensure they can have secure vote-by-mail elections if they want.

Dalton reminded voters that results will likely come in slowly on election night because it does take longer to process ballots in a vote-by-mail system, especially if other states switch to vote-by-mail for the first time.

“Other states are going to have a challenge in trying to get to vote by mail and do it as efficiently as possible,” she said.

In his eulogy for the late Rep. John Lewis on Thursday, former President Barack Obama called on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and on voters to push to make it better, by allowing automatic voter registration or making Election Day a national holiday.

Obama also criticized those in power who are trying to make voting more restrictive by “undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that’s going to be dependent on mail-in ballots so people don’t get sick.”

Inslee invoked Lewis’ name in defending Washington’s use of all-mail voting and dismissing the president’s suggestion.

The state would “carry on (Lewis’s) work by making sure people can vote and making sure that we have a solid democracy,” Inslee said.

Spokesman-Review reporter Jim Camden contributed to this report from Olympia.

Orion Donovan-Smith and Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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