Chris Wallace made clear in advance of Tuesday night’s first 2020 presidential debate that his role, by the rules, wasn’t to be a fact-checker. That disappointed President Trump’s critics, especially after Wallace so deftly and brutally fact-checked Trump in an interview two months ago.
Nowhere was such a moderator more sorely needed than when voter fraud came up.
Trump unleashed a barrage of false, unproven and sometimes unintelligible claims about mail-in voting. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden disputed some of them in broad terms, but there was otherwise no indication for the casual viewer that Trump was inventing and exaggerating the true threat of voter fraud come Nov. 3.
Let’s run through some of Trump’s claims vs. what the actual record shows.
“When you have 80 million ballots sent in and swamping the system, you know it can’t be done.”
This contradicts what Trump’s own postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, has repeatedly said. DeJoy told the Senate last month that the Postal Service would be able to deliver the ballots “securely and on time,” calling it a “sacred duty.” He added just last week that Trump’s claims that it can’t handle the ballots are “incorrect.” (DeJoy, it bears noting, is a Trump loyalist and was a top fundraiser for him.)
“There’s fraud. They found them in creeks. … They are being dumped in rivers. This is a horrible thing for our country.”
This appears to refer to a situation in Wisconsin in which three trays of mail were found in a ditch off a highway. (Trump’s claim has shifted from “riverbed” to now “river” and “creeks.”) But that included all kinds of mail — not just absentee ballots, of which “several” were found, according to officials. What’s more, it’s not established whether the absentee ballots had even been completed. Put plainly, the Postal Service is investigating, but there’s no evidence of wrongdoing, much less fraud.
“They found ballots in a wastepaper basket three days ago, and they all had the name — military ballots, they were military — they all had the name Trump on them.”
Trump’s claim is false. The FBI initially said all nine of the discarded ballots were for Trump, but later amended that to say that seven of the nine were (the other two had been resealed without establishing whom the votes were for). What’s more, there are very logical, non-nefarious explanations for it, as The Washington Post’s Philip Bump noted, with officials citing confusion over precisely what the pieces of mail were and opening them. There was also controversy over the Justice Department issuing a statement that included who the votes on the ballot were for — which invited allegations that DOJ was yet again furthering Trump’s political goals.
Update: Pennsylvania’s secretary of state, Kathy Boockvar (D), now says “from the initial reports we’ve been given, this was a bad error. This was not intentional fraud.”
“They sent two in a Democrat area — they sent out 1,000 ballots. Everybody got two ballots. This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen.”
This appears to refer to a situation in Fairfax County, Va., that surfaced last week, in which more than 1,400 people received duplicate absentee ballots — something officials attributed to a printing error. Fairfax County is indeed heavily Democratic. But there are safeguards in place preventing people from actually voting twice, which would negate the possibility of fraud.
“Take a look at what happened in Manhattan. … Take a look at Carolyn Maloney’s race. They have no idea what happened.”
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney’s (D-N.Y.) primary remained unresolved for weeks because of disputed ballots, but again, there is no hint of fraud there, and neither side is even alleging any. The issue there was a postmarking process that election officials acknowledged had problems. If Trump wants to argue this is an example of mail ballots creating problems in areas that have expanded their use during the coronavirus pandemic, sure. But he’s often connected it to actual fraud, which like his other allegations is unsubstantiated.
“Take a look at what happened in New Jersey.”
There were allegations of fraud in elections in Paterson, N.J., in May, but Trump has often exaggerated them by suggesting the 19 percent of ballots that were rejected there were fraudulent. In fact, many of them were rejected for valid reasons or precisely because the city has focused so much on scrutinizing ballots to root out potential fraud, because of past instances of fraudulent voting there. Officials in Paterson emphasize the circumstances of what occurred there would be difficult to replicate most anywhere else.
“In Philadelphia, they went in to watch. They were called poll watchers — a very safe, very nice thing. They were thrown out. They weren’t allowed to watch. You know why? Cause bad things happen in Philadelphia, bad things.”
As the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, this is also much ado about not a whole lot:
“Did you see what’s going on? Take a look at West Virginia — mailmen selling the ballots. They are being sold.”
West Virginia officials say they have no record of letter carriers allegedly selling ballots. There was one instance in which a letter carrier pleaded guilty to fraud for changing the party on absentee ballot requests — which he said was intended as a joke — but he didn’t change any actual votes. And again, this is nowhere close to what Trump suggests.
“They say you have to have your ballot in by November 10. November 10. That means that’s seven days after the election, in theory, should have been announced.”
As Biden noted, the states that accept mail ballots after Election Day still require them to be postmarked by Election Day. But given the mail can take a few days, some states allow for a grace period for the ballots to arrive.
“I read today where at least 1 percent of the ballots for 2016 were invalidated. They take them: ‘We don’t like them, we don’t like them.’ ”
Again, ballots being invalidated doesn’t mean they are fraudulent — much less that elections officials are deliberately rejecting them for nefarious reasons. In the vast majority of cases, there are problems with how they are filled out or returned. According to the Election Assistance Commission, Trump’s 1 percent figure is correct, but almost all of them had signature-related or other problems, or they weren’t returned by the deadline.
“When I listen to Joe talking about a transition, there has been no transition from when I won. I won that election and if you look at crooked Hillary Clinton, if you look at all of the different people, there was no transition because they came after me trying to do a coup.”
This refers to Biden’s criticism of Trump indicating last week that he wouldn’t necessarily accept a peaceful transfer of power — comments Trump made in the context of supposed looming fraud. But there was in fact a transition when Trump was elected. Whatever you think of what followed, Clinton conceded and Trump was allowed to take office via a peaceful transfer. That is decidedly not something Trump has been willing to guarantee. It’s just not an apples-to-apples comparison.
“A solicited ballot … is okay. You’re soliciting, you’re asking, they send it back, you send it back. I did that. If you have an unsolicited — they’re sending millions of ballots all over the country.”
The vast majority of states require people to actually request a ballot. The exceptions are the five universal vote-by-mail states, along with four others (plus D.C.) that are now sending them automatically because of the coronavirus. Some other states send them automatically to people who have filed to be permanent absentee voters, while a few others automatically send them to older voters. The only state that does automatic mail ballots for all voters that could be in play this year is Nevada, which has trended blue, and Trump probably wouldn’t win in any circumstances. That renders this pretty non-consequential as far as determining a winner.
What’s more, the vast majority of cases in which Trump suggests fraud (including the above) involve solicited absentee ballots. So his argument is a non-sequitur.
What you need to know: How to make sure your vote counts in November | Absentee ballots vs. mail-in ballots | How to track your vote like a package | How to prevent your mail ballot from being rejected | More than 500,000 mail ballots were rejected in the primaries | Where Biden and Harris stand on voting issues | Google allows ads with ‘blatant disinformation’ about voting by mail
U.S. Postal Service: Postal Service backlog sparks worries that ballot delivery could be delayed in November | Why the USPS wanted to remove hundreds of mail-sorting machines | Can FedEx and UPS deliver ballots? | The cash-strapped Postal Service | Overhaul in USPS leadership | Newly revealed USPS documents show the agency’s 2020 ballot pressures, uncertainty
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