Trump Campaign Sues to Block Mailing of Ballots in New Jersey

A woman walks past a vote-by-mail drop box for the upcoming New Jersey primary election outside the Camden, N.J., Administration Building, Wednesday, July 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

(CN) — President Trump’s reelection campaign brought a federal complaint late Tuesday night to stop New Jersey from mailing a ballot to everyone in the state. 

“New Jersey has a sordid history of illegitimate elections,” the 37-page complaint alleges, going on to warn that universal mail-in voting will exacerbate fraud and create “a recipe for disaster.”

Represented by attorneys at Consovoy McCarthy, the campaign claims that the state legislature alone has the authority to change election rules. It calls New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s executive order “a direct usurpation of the legislature’s authority.” 

The lawsuit is the latest effort by the Trump campaign to oppose mail-in voting in November and follows similar suits in Pennsylvania, Nevada and Iowa. Trump has repeatedly claimed that mail-in voting is susceptible to fraud. 

“With Universal Mail-In Voting … 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” he tweeted on July 30.  

Trump has also been feuding with congressional Democrats over their proposal for a new coronavirus-relief package that includes billions of dollars in new Postal Service funding in anticipation of a slew of absentee ballots.  

“If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” Trump said in an interview last Thursday. “That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting. They just can’t have it.”  

New York voters and four candidates for office brought a federal class action against Trump on Monday, saying he is deliberately slowing down mail service to make mail-in voting more difficult. The next day, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced he would halt initiatives that would slow down mail until after the election “to avoid even the appearance of impact on election mail.” 

According to Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine, “the most benign explanation for Mr. Trump’s obsessive focus on mail-in balloting is that he is looking for an excuse for a possible loss to his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, in November.”

“The less benign explanation is that he is seeking to sow chaos to drive down turnout and undermine the legitimacy of the election, laying the groundwork for contesting a close election if he loses,” Hasen added,

In the New Jersey case, the Trump campaign accuses Murphy of “a brazen power grab” that violates the U.S. Constitution. 

He says Murphy has no authority to change the election rules because even a declared public health emergency “does not allow the governor to suspend or re-write the state’s election laws.” 

Calling Murphy’s executive order a “stark departure” from his many other actions opening up the state — including reopening schools — in response to declining Covid-19 cases, the campaign says suspicion is warranted.

“Much of the push toward universal vote-by-mail has been driven by litigation initiated by the Democratic Party,” the complaint contends. “Democrats pushed these changes long before Covid-19 because they believe that the resulting virtually unregulated and unsupervised environment will help their electoral prospects.” 

The campaign said mailing a ballot to everyone in the state is problematic in part because voter registration rolls are inaccurate. It cited a 2012 Pew Research study that found that “approximately 24 million — one of every eight — voter registrations in the United States are no longer valid or are significantly inaccurate.” 

“In 2016,” the campaign says, “the Asbury Park Press performed an investigation of New Jersey’s voter rolls and found a full 2,460 active voters who had been dead for at least five years, and nearly sixty of them had apparently cast votes after they died.” 

“Another study in 2005 found that 4,755 people who were listed as deceased voted in the 2004 general election. And 4,397 people who were registered to vote in more than one county voted twice.” 

The campaign listed numerous other examples of vote fraud in New Jersey, including a 2010 case in which over a dozen people were arrested. 

When ballots were mailed earlier this year to every voter in for 2020 state primary, “the results were disastrous,” the campaign alleges. It says 10% of “ballots that were cast were invalidated,” and a city council member in Paterson was arrested for vote fraud. 

From a legal point of view, the fact that fraud exists is unlikely to persuade a court that a mail-in ballot system is unconstitutional, Hasen said. But Trump might be successful based on arguments over the governor’s authority. 

Edward Foley, an election law expert at Ohio State University, says the issue is similar to Bush v. Gore in that the governor could exercise discretion in implementing the legislature’s actions but ultimately has no power to change state law regarding how presidents are selected. 

Murphy previously stated that the Paterson case showed that fraud is unlikely to be successful. “If you screw around with voting, you’re going to be caught,” he said. “I’m pretty sure we have a higher probability of being hit by lighting than uncovering voter fraud.” 

The campaign acknowledged that Murphy could mail every voter in the state an application for a mail-in ballot. But he can’t mail them an actual ballot, it argues.

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