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Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday played up the risks of the widespread use of mail ballots in the upcoming election during a testy interview with CNN, echoing President Trump‘s attacks on a shift to mail-in voting during the pandemic.
“This is playing with fire,” Barr told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, who pressed the attorney general on his assertions that mail-in voting was subject to fraud.
“We’re a very closely divided country here, and people have to have confidence in the legitimacy of the government,” he continued. “People trying to change the rules to this methodology, which as a matter of logic is very open to fraud and coercion, is reckless and dangerous, and people are playing with fire.”
Barr has previously claimed that mail-in ballots could be subject to counterfeiting by foreign actors. He said he was basing that “on logic” but offered no additional evidence to back up his assertion.
“I don’t have any information because this is the first time we’ve tried such a thing,” Barr said.
Instead, he offered a lengthy argument against the expansive use of mail voting that many states are eyeing this year in light of the coronavirus pandemic, which has made it potentially unsafe for swaths of Americans to vote in person.
The attorney general cited a 2005 study from a bipartisan commission led by former President Carter that warned mail ballots were at risk of fraud and coercion. Carter has since embraced mail-in voting, citing additional safeguards put in place.
The interview grew increasingly tense as Blitzer pointed out that multiple states rely entirely on mail-in voting to conduct their elections, with Barr imploring the anchor to “let me talk.”
The attorney general argued that the narrative around the safety of mail-in voting has shifted during the Trump administration but that the risks remain. He cited the case of a Texas man who collected 1,700 ballots and then used them all to vote for his preferred candidate.
“Now what we’re talking about is mailing them to everyone on the voter list when everyone knows those voter lists are inaccurate,” Barr said. “People who should get them don’t get them … and people who get them are not the right people.”
“Do you think that’s a way to run a vote?” he asked.
Barr allowed that absentee voting is acceptable for individuals who are at a higher risk of falling seriously ill if they contract the coronavirus, noting that he has personally voted absentee in the past.
Barr’s dire predictions about mail ballots align with the president’s months-long campaign to undermine confidence in the process. Trump has repeatedly claimed that if mail-in voting is widespread in November, the result will be “fraudulent” or “rigged.”
Trump has in the past made numerous baseless claims about voter fraud, and elections experts have repeatedly said there is minimal meaningful fraud associated with mail ballots. They have pointed to safeguards in place such as signature verification and bar codes for tracking.