Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Eric Bolling gave President Donald Trump an assist in his efforts to limit the use of voting by mail in the upcoming presidential election, by interviewing a former Washington elections official during which Bolling falsely portrayed this voting method as prone to fraud.
With states changing or delaying elections because of the danger posed by the novel coronavirus, Trump has made it a priority to discredit voting by mail, even though he uses it himself -- as do many of his top staffers. Trump is transparently attempting to limit the expansion of voting by mail for his own political gain, and Bolling’s interview isn’t the first time Sinclair has helped Trump with this aim. In late June, a report from Sinclair national correspondent Kristine Frazao uncritically pushed Trump’s absurd and debunked claims that people will steal ballots from mailboxes and that foreign countries will print mail-in ballots. And in an early April report, Frazao uncritically included a quote from Trump saying, “I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting.”
On the July 11 episode of America This Week, Bolling repeatedly pushed a former Washington secretary of state to validate his claims that fraud is rampant in mail-in voting, asking first, “Tell us about the fraud that could happen,” and then, “Do you not see the opportunity for fraud with mail-in voting?” The interview aired in full or in part on at least 49 Sinclair-owned or -operated stations in 38 states. Two of these states, Washington and Oregon, use mail-in voting as their primary method of voting. Bolling’s interview was also available to be streamed on many Sinclair stations’ websites.
Despite Bolling’s refusal to take no for an answer, mail-in voting fraud is extremely rare. In an April op-ed in The Hill, two election experts explained that the data show “an occurrence that translates to about 0.00006 percent of total votes cast.” The Bipartisan Policy Center asked three experienced election officials about common myths regarding mail-in voting, and all three said that “the most common myth about absentee voting is that mail-in ballots are more susceptible to voter fraud.” They also detailed some of the steps election officials can take to ensure that mail-in voting is secure, such as conducting signature verification and tracking ballots to prevent double voting. The Brennan Center for Justice explained in April that despite a “dramatic increase in mail voting over time, fraud rates remain infinitesimally small.” And NBC News reported that a study from researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of New Mexico; and the Union of Concerned Scientists found that mail-in ballot fraud is “very rare.”
The bad-faith trolling about our elections that Bolling engaged in here can hurt both our elections and our public health. Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting are already causing Republican voters to say they don’t trust mail-in voting and, in at least one case, to publicly burn ballot applications. And Bolling’s repeated and baseless insistence that mail-in voting is prone to fraud can only add to this problem. After Wisconsin held its election in person because Republican lawmakers refused to expand mail-in voting, dozens of new coronavirus infections were tied to people voting at polling sites. Voters who forgo voting by mail because of the distrust spread in part by Sinclair programming may instead vote in person, where they will put themselves at risk of infection, illness, and death.