Robocalls sent by Trump campaign surrogates Kimberly Guilfoyle and the President’s daughter-in-law Lara Trump are encouraging Republican voters to use absentee ballots to vote in November, calling them one of the “best ways” to support President Trump in November.
Both calls attempt to draw a false distinction between absentee voting and other forms of mail-in voting. Guilfoyle’s call goes so far as to claim the “radical left” wants to “confuse you” on mail-in voting and that “Democrats want to scare you away from voting absentee.”
“Absentee voting and universal vote-by-mail may sound similar but could not be more different,” says Guilfoyle. “Absentee voting is safe, secure and supported by President Trump. The radical left wants universal vote-by-mail, which is proven to be filled with fraud, abuse and mistakes.”
None of those assertions about vote-by-mail are true.
Trump’s daughter-in-law uses a similar script in her robocall, encouraging listeners to use the absentee ballot sent to voters from the Trump campaign, before accusing “radical Democrats” of playing politics during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to data from Nomorobo, an anti-robocall protection app, both robocall messages were estimated to be made 77.4 million times across the US in September alone. Those calls were delivered via 53 different phone numbers. The call volumes are estimated across the US based on the sampling of calls that Nomorobo sees, according to Aaron Foss, the app’s founder. The data does not indicate how many people listened to the call (or for how long if they did).
The data shows that the calls were focused on key battleground election states, including Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Florida. A large number of calls were also made into Texas, Georgia and Virginia, states seen as important to win by both political parties.
Facts First: Both robocalls are littered with misinformation. Experts say there is little difference between absentee ballots and voting-by-mail. There is no evidence that voting by mail leads to widespread fraud and abuse. It is also false to suggest that Democrats prefer universal voting-by-mail to absentee ballots.
Historically, only a handful of states have used a universal mail-in ballot system to vote. But this year, nine states, plus the District of Columbia, are automatically sending mail-in ballots to every registered voter because of the coronavirus pandemic. An additional 36 states will allow any voter to request a ballot to vote by mail without providing an excuse. In five states, voters must still provide an acceptable excuse other than the pandemic, in order to vote by mail.
A spokesperson for the Republican National Committee defended the robocalls and falsely said that Democrats wanted to implement widespread mail voting with no safeguards.
“The point of this call — which was reiterated throughout — is to encourage voters to vote through the proper absentee process ‘safely and securely’, while continuing to warn against Democrats’ attempt to overhaul our elections systems and implement widespread vote by mail with no safeguards,” said RNC National Press Secretary Mandi Merritt.
The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment.
Rare instances of voter fraud
While rare instances of voter fraud from mail-in ballots have been documented, it is nowhere near a widespread problem.
Oregon, one of a handful of states to adopt universal vote-by-mail before the pandemic and a pioneer for mail-in voting, has sent out more than 100 million mail-in ballots in the past 20 years. The state has only a dozen documented cases of fraud.
Absentee vs universal mail-in
Democratic officials are encouraging voters to use absentee or mail-in ballots (as are Republican officials).
Guilfoyle’s claim that Democrats want to scare voters away from absentee ballots “because it is one of the best ways you can help President Trump win in November” is false. There is no evidence that voting by mail has an advantage for either Democrats or Republicans.
This story has been updated to include more data on the robocalls.