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Republicans Disagree On Voter Fraud Risk For Mail-In Voting


President Trump has falsely claimed repeatedly that mail-in voting is ripe for fraud and bad for Republicans. But the president has provided no evidence for these claims, and his vocal opposition has made it more difficult for some Republican state officials who want to expand mail-in voting in response to the pandemic. Here's NPR's Pam Fessler.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Kentucky's Republican Secretary of State Michael Adams wants to encourage absentee voting in his state's primary June 23, so he plans to send every registered voter a postcard telling them how they can easily apply for a mail-in ballot online.

MICHAEL ADAMS: And I've gotten (laughter) - I've gotten my head taken off for that.

FESSLER: By some local Republicans who think more absentee voting means one thing - stolen elections. Adams says it's frustrating because there are protections in place to prevent that from happening.

ADAMS: The biggest challenge I have right now is making the concept of absentee balloting less toxic for Republicans.

FESSLER: Adams admits he has himself partly to blame. Like many Republicans, he ran for office on a platform of fighting voter fraud. He now says it's really only a problem in small local elections.

ADAMS: It's a sensitive issue, and that's partly on me because I talked about it in my campaign. But it's my job now to calm people's fears.

FESSLER: He's not the only Republican election official who finds himself in a similar position. After Georgia's secretary of state decided to send absentee ballot applications to 7 million voters for next month's primary, the state's Republican House speaker complained. He said it could be, quote, "extremely devastating for the party." And in Louisiana, the top election official had to scale back his absentee voting plan because of opposition from Republican lawmakers. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose has also faced some pushback.

FRANK LAROSE: Because of the national argument, some people have sort of dug into this vote by mail is bad, vote in person is good. The fact is it's not quite that simple.

FESSLER: So LaRose has been making the case that absentee voting in his state is secure because of protections like signature matching and the ability of voters to track their ballots online. In fact, polls show that most voters like the option of voting by mail. And despite Trump's comments, Republican operatives have been encouraging party members to vote absentee.

David Becker is a consultant who works closely with state election officials. He says most of them just want to steer clear of the political crossfire.

DAVID BECKER: They're just kind of quietly trying to do their job and stay above the political fray. I think that's the best strategy for them.

FESSLER: He says they already have to balance voters' concerns about going to the polls in a pandemic with the complicated logistics of more mail-in voting. At the same time, they have to assure the public that the election is secure. Becker says voter fraud is extremely rare, but he worries that all the talk about it could undermine public confidence in the results.

BECKER: And could be used by the loser in an election to delegitimize the outcomes.

FESSLER: And perhaps to cover their bases, some Republican secretaries of state have set up special task forces to monitor mail-in voting for signs of fraud. Michael Adams of Kentucky says he'll be announcing a similar task force soon.

Pam Fessler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.