The head of a key federal election agency said Wednesday that the president’s attacks against the United States Postal Service and mail-in voting were “unfortunate” and expressed confidence the election in November would be carried out fairly.
Ben Hovland, chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, was appointed to his post by President Donald Trump last year. In an interview with the PBS NewsHour, he said “When you talk to election officials, you know, Republicans, Democrats across the country, people that this is their job and this is what they do — they have trust in this system. They know it works. They’ve been doing it for years.”
Hovland added that officials have been preparing for a pandemic election since late March, and he’s “heartened to see that work firsthand and hear from election officials about all they’re doing to make November as smooth as possible.”
“It gives me great confidence in the system,” he said.
Election officials expect a surge in mail-in voting this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Absentee voting did increase during the primaries earlier this year, when millions of voters chose to vote by mail rather than wait in long lines and cast ballots in person.
Hovland noted that the mail volume the USPS successfully handles around the holidays each year far exceeds the additional ballots expected for the election, and that it’s less an issue of whether the postal service can handle the mail volume and more about whether ballots will arrive on time. He encouraged voters to make a plan and get their ballots in the mail early.
Trump has repeatedly criticized the USPS and attacked Democrats for requesting an additional $25 billion to help prop up the underfunded agency. In an interview with FOX News earlier this month, Trump called the proposed funding “election money, basically” and said without it “you can’t have universal mail-in voting.”
The president has also claimed without evidence that mail-in voting leads to widespread fraud, despite numerous studies showing voter fraud in the U.S. is exceedingly rare.
In a speech Monday on the first day of the Republican National Convention, Trump raised the issue and said Democrats were “stealing millions of votes” by trying to boost mail-in ballots. He also said that would result in a “rigged election,” a refrain he used in the run-up to the 2016 election as well.
Hovland said he wouldn’t “speculate as to the reasons” behind Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting, “but what I can tell you is that it absolutely doesn’t help.”
Hovland said that “time and time again, this issue has been looked at…there’s been study after study. There was a presidential commission created. There have been countless lawsuits on this issue. And when the rubber hits the road, there has been no real evidence.”
The U.S. Election Assistance Commission was created after the 2000 election, when a contested recount in Florida led Congress to pass the Help America Vote Act. The agency certifies voting machines, and runs the national mail voter registration form.