DETROIT (Reuters) – Former President Barack Obama said on Friday he worries about protecting the integrity of November’s election in view of efforts by President Donald Trump to “kneecap” the U.S. Postal Service to limit Americans voting by mail during the pandemic.
Obama, speaking on a podcast with David Plouffe, who managed his winning 2008 presidential campaign, also played down the seriousness of progressive-moderate divisions in the Democratic Party and said younger voters provided the key to beating Trump.
Trump, who opinion polls show is trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, said on Thursday he was blocking Democrats’ effort to include funds for the Postal Service in a new coronavirus relief bill, in a bid to stop universal mail-in voting.
Trump has railed for months against mail-in ballots as a possible source of fraud, although millions of Americans have cast absentee ballots by mail for years without such problems.
“The thing I’m most worried about is A) how do we protect the integrity of the election process? How do we make sure that people’s votes are counted?” Obama said.
He said Republicans have actively discouraged voter turnout before but that Trump’s efforts to “actively kneecap the Postal Service” were unprecedented.
“What we’ve seen in a way that is unique to modern political history is a president who is explicit in trying to discourage people from voting, right?” he said.
The Postal Service has told at least four states — Michigan, Pennsylvania, California and Washington — there is “significant risk” voters will not have enough time to complete their ballots and return them on time under current state laws, according to correspondence seen by Reuters.
“When we have voted in large numbers, particularly young people, we make progress. And when we don’t, that vacuum is filled by people who are only interested in protecting their own power,” Obama said.
Democrats have been trying to get younger, more progressive people, who usually vote in lower numbers, to take part in the election on Nov. 3. They worry that disagreements between moderate Democrats, such as Biden, and the more left-leaning wing of the party could hurt turnout.
Obama said Democrats were “unified” around the idea that everyone should have healthcare.
“So the good news is that a lot of the so-called divisions within the Democratic Party, I think are not going to be a major factor in the election,” he said.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)