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A worker wears gloves while handling ballots from the Washington state primary election, Tuesday, March 10, 2020, at the King County Elections headquarters in Renton, Wash. (AP) A worker wears gloves while handling ballots from the Washington state primary election, Tuesday, March 10, 2020, at the King County Elections headquarters in Renton, Wash. (AP)

A worker wears gloves while handling ballots from the Washington state primary election, Tuesday, March 10, 2020, at the King County Elections headquarters in Renton, Wash. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman May 14, 2020

RNC video takes Biden, Obama, Wasserman Schultz out of context on mail-in voting

If Your Time is short

  • The clip of Biden has nothing to do with voting by mail.

  • The video includes short clips of Barack Obama and Debbie Wasserman Schultz sounding critical of voting by mail, but they were not condemning voting by mail overall.

  • Both Obama and Wasserman Schultz were speaking about a proposal, which ultimately never went forward, to redo the Florida presidential primary by mail in 2008.

A new video launched by the Republican National Committee suggests Democrats are pushing a "radical plan to change our elections" through widespread mail-in voting.

"This is a radical change from their past," the video says. As evidence, it flashes to clips of comments by President Barack Obama, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that are divorced from any context.

The one-minute video plays snippets of journalists bashing Iowa Democrats over their bungled caucus in February before ending with a warning: "Democrats couldn’t run the Iowa Caucus. Don’t let them redesign our entire election."

The RNC launched its Protect the Vote website May 8, vowing to fight the "Democrats’ assault on the integrity of our elections."

But the clips of Democratic leaders are removed from the context of what they were talking about and ignore Obama’s support for voting by mail in general at the time. 

The video also wrongly portrays the push for more mail-in voting as solely a Democratic effort. While Democratic leaders have pushed for more mail-in voting, they aren’t alone. Republican officeholders in at least 16 states that do not have all-mail elections were encouraging voters to cast ballots via mail. The RNC’s former chairman in March called for conservatives to embrace broader use of voting by mail.

RELATED: Donald Trump’s dubious claim that 'thousands' are conspiring on mail-ballot fraud

Biden wasn’t speaking about voting

The ad starts with a clip of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden stating, "We have an incredible opportunity to not just dig out of this crisis but to fundamentally change this country." The text on the screen says, "Democrats have a radical plan to change our elections."

But Biden’s statement was about protecting essential workers, not voting by mail or in person. He used a May 4 campaign event to talk about providing a livable wage and paid sick leave to workers including meat packers and grocery store clerks.

Biden’s campaign has said he wants safer options for voting, including voting by mail and in-person voting.

At a virtual fundraiser in April, Biden told donors that we have to make it easier for everyone to vote if we are still in lockdown, including providing mail-in ballots.

At a virtual fundraiser May 8, Biden praised a move by California Gov. Gavin Newsom to send a mail-in ballot to every voter.

Obama was talking about the 2008 Florida presidential primary

The video shows MSNBC’s Chris Matthews asking Obama a question related to mail-in voting. 

"They are talking about people mailing in their ballots. Do you trust the security, the honesty of such an election process?" Matthews asked.

Obama responded: "Well, I’d think we would have to figure out whether this was fraud-proof."

The video doesn’t clearly show the context of the interview; faint text on the screen says "Decision 08." 

It would be possible for viewers to assume Obama was criticizing voting by mail in general, but Obama was commenting about a specific set of circumstances related to the presidential primary in Florida.

In 2007, the Florida Legislature moved up the date of the presidential primary to Jan. 29, earlier than either national party permitted. Hillary Clinton beat Obama, but the Democratic National Committee determined that the election violated party rules and stripped the state of its delegates. In March 2008, some Florida Democrats proposed a do-over election including a scenario of entirely voting by mail. 

Here was Matthews’ full question on March 11, 2008, to then-Sen. Obama:

"There’s word from Florida that they intend to put out a mailing sort of a campaign — I mean, an election process, whereby they make up for the primary they had before, which was ruled out of order by the Democratic National Committee and you did not campaign in. They’re talking about mailing it — people mailing in their ballots. Do you trust the security, the honesty of such an election process?

The RNC video only included the first sentence of Obama’s cautious response. But Obama then made some positive statements about voting by mail:

"I mean, Oregon, for example, has a terrific mail-in system, but they’ve already scanned everybody’s signatures who’s registered to vote so that they can check to make sure that in fact the right people are voting. And that’s something that I think you’d have to figure out."

During the 2020 pandemic, Obama has not expressly called for only voting by mail. He called for safe voting options while tweeting a New York Times story that debunked the claim that absentee voting favors Democrats and an NPR story about proposals to expand voting by mail and early voting.

Wasserman Schultz also commented on the re-do election proposal

The clip in the video of Wasserman Schultz does not clearly show the context. The text on the screen reads "postal primary do-over" — but it’s difficult to decipher.

"Debbie Wasserman Schultz argues a mail-in ballot has ‘wrong’ written all over it," a journalist says.

The video then shows a clip of Wasserman Schultz, a Broward Democrat, stating: "It would be a risky experiment for us with an election that has stakes as high as a presidential election does." 

The RNC video omits her next sentence: "We've never done a mail-in ballot statewide." She also said that "there's a way to solve this without totally redoing this and causing more chaos."

Those clips are from a CNN report on March 10, 2008, about the idea for a mail-in primary do-over.

Wasserman Schultz was talking about voting by mail in the narrow context of the proposed re-do election that spring. After months of wrangling that spring, the DNC agreed that Florida could send a full delegation to the convention, but each delegate would only get half a vote.

Amid the pandemic, Wasserman Schultz said she supports expanding early voting and vote by mail options.

The video also includes a quote by Eric Holder, a former Attorney General under Obama. 

"No form of electoral fraud ever has been or will ever be tolerated by this administration," Holder said. That stems from a speech he gave about voting rights in 2012; he wasn’t specifically talking about absentee ballot fraud. 

Our ruling

An RNC video says Joe Biden said voting by mail is a way to "fundamentally change this country," contradicting past statements by Barack Obama and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

The RNC video only includes snippets of statements by Obama and Wasserman Schultz to leave viewers with a misleading impression that they were bashing voting by mail in general, and that wasn’t the case. Obama and Wasserman Schultz were talking about voting by mail in a narrow set of circumstances: a controversial proposal to redo the presidential preference primary in Florida in 2008. There is no evidence that overall either Democrat was broadly critical of voting by mail as an option in elections.

The portion of the video about Biden also omits context. The video quotes him stating "we have an incredible opportunity to not just dig out of this crisis but to fundamentally change this country," before launching into the video’s theme that Democrats want to use mail-in balloting to "radically change" American elections. But Biden wasn’t talking about elections, he was talking about protecting workers amid the pandemic.

This video includes actual quotes by these three Democrats, but lacks context to explain their remarks. This video rates Mostly False.

UPDATE, May 15, 2020: We received a statement from the RNC after publication. It does not affect the rating of the fact-check.

Our Sources

Protect the Vote, Video and website, May 8, 2020

AP, Pelosi unveils $3T virus bill, warns inaction costs more, May 12, 2020

MSNBC, Interview with Sen. Barack Obama video and transcript, March 11, 2008

CNN, Transcript, March 10, 2008

Attorney General Eric Holder, Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the Conference of National Black Churches Annual Consultation, May 30, 2012

Fox News, RNC launches ProtectTheVote website to highlight election integrity efforts amid coronavirus pandemic, May 8, 2020

Washington Examiner op-ed by Michael Steele and Eli Lehrer, Conservatives need to get behind vote-by-mail options in 2020 election, March 24, 2020

Washington Post, GOP pushes voting by mail — with restrictions — while Trump attacks it as ‘corrupt’ April 13, 2020

The Hill, Historic shifts seen in support for mail-in voting, April 15, 2020

Reuters, Most Americans, unlike Trump, want mail-in ballots for November if coronavirus threatens: Reuters/Ipsos poll, April 7, 2020

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Instagram, April 20, 2020

TIME, The Race to Revote in Florida, March 11, 2008

AP, Biden backs mail vote, says Trump’s opposition ‘un-American’ April 23, 2020

Daily Beast, 

Politico, Pelosi unveils $3 trillion coronavirus relief plan amid squeeze from left and right, May 12, 2020

President Barack Obama, Tweet, April 10, 2020

Tampa Bay Times, Will Florida tip the nomination? March 6, 2008

Miami Herald, Money a big hurdle to Florida primary do-over; March 7, 2008

Tampa Bay TImes, Florida finally counts in Democratic race, June 1, 2008

Miami Herald, Sign up for class, register to vote? Feb. 21, 1996

AP,  The day in Tallahassee, April 23, 2004

Email interview, Eric Schultz, President Barack Obama spokesman, May 11, 2020

Email interview, David Damron, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz spokesman, May 11, 2020

Email interview, Mike Gwin, Joe Biden campaign spokesman, May 11, 2020

 

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RNC video takes Biden, Obama, Wasserman Schultz out of context on mail-in voting

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