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During the first Presidential debate between Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News asked what both candidates are prepared to do to ensure a fair election. After Biden looked into the camera and told the public to vote, Trump reiterated now refuted claims about mail-in ballot fraud and also claimed a mailman in West Virginia is “selling ballots.”

“They’re being sold. They’re being dumped in rivers. This is a horrible thing for our country. This is not going to end well,” Trump said. Those claims were inaccurate.

The option to vote by mail was brought to the forefront this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Trump has continuously shared misleading information regarding mail-in voting fraud. On May 26, Trump tweeted that mail-in ballots would be fraudulent because “mailboxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed.” Voter fraud is extremely rare and tempering with the mail is punishable by fines or jail time or both. 

He also claimed that California Governor Gavin Newsom sent mail-in ballots to “millions of people” that live in the state “no matter who they are or how they got there.” Newsom signed an executive order to send mail-in to every registered voter in the state to ensure a safe and accessible election during the pandemic.

Twitter flagged Trump’s tweets and added a link that provided sources that refuted his claims. As a result, Trump issued an executive order on May 28 that claimed Twitter selectively decided to place a warning label on certain tweets that “clearly reflect political bias.”

Five organizations, including Voto Latino, Rock the Vote, and Protect Democracy, sued President Trump for spreading misinformation about mail-in voting on Twitter and in response to the executive order. In a press release, the organizations pointed out that several of the President’s tweets about mail-in voting, including one that said universal mail-in voting would contribute to this election to be the “most inaccurate and fraudulent election in history,” are false statements. The press release also said that Trump’s executive order is an act of retaliation and a restriction on speech that violates the First Amendment.

“Voters have a constitutional right to receive accurate information about voting alternatives without government interference, especially from a self-interested President who is lying to gain an advantage in the upcoming election. So when Trump retaliates against private social media companies for fact-checking his lies, it’s not only a First Amendment violation—it’s the kind of behavior you’d expect to see from a dictator,” Kristy Parker, counsel with Protect Democracy, said in the press release. “In the midst of a global pandemic, when far more voters than usual may opt to vote by mail to protect their personal health, the President’s authoritarian actions are especially egregious.”

The United States Postal Service (USPS) released a letter to local and state election officials a few days after Trump’s tweets about mail-in voting to better inform the public about the process. USPS anticipated the increase in mail-in voting and released an election mail kit in March that mentions that voters should mail their ballots at least a week before the due date.

Trump has admitted in an interview with Fox Business News that he blocked additional funding to USPS to hurt mail-in voting. In June, Trump appointed a new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, who reduced USPS employees’ overtime hours and ordered them to shut down sorting machines. Due to public outcry though, DeJoy released a statement in August that he would suspend his organizational changes until after the election. The US House also passed a bill that will provide USPS with $25 billion emergency funds and is currently waiting for a vote in the Senate.

Fact checkers will have their work cut out for them with the November 3 general election less than a month away. Wallace’s final question of the debate asked if both men would urge their supporters to stay calm and if they would not declare victory until the election was independently certified. Trump responded that he is urging his supporters to become “poll watchers” to watch “very carefully” what happens at the polls. 

Maria Teresa Kumar, Voto Latino President and CEO, tweeted during the debate that “poll watchers” were considered illegal until the law expired in 2017 and that Trump is recruiting these poll watchers to intimidate voters. Kumar encourages people to vote despite Trump’s remarks during the debate.

Early voting has already started in some states with other states starting soon. While the option to vote by mail is available in every state, the criteria and deadlines vary. Most states don’t require an excuse to vote by mail, but a few states, like Texas, require an excuse like being 65 years old or older or having a disability to vote with a mail ballot.

To learn more about how and when to vote in the general election either in person or through the mail, visit vote.org/covid-19 and select your state for more details.

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