Citing “horror stories,” President Donald Trump unleashed a torrent of fabricated accusations Thursday in an audacious attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the U.S. election.
Standing behind the presidential seal, Trump used a White House setting symbolizing the power of his office to assail an election he portrayed as rife with fraud and corruption. One allegation after another had no basis in fact, such as his accusation that election officials in Pennsylvania and Detroit tried to ban election observers from polling stations.
A look at his remarks, coming as Democrat Joe Biden made progress toward the electoral votes needed to claim the presidency.
TRUMP: “We’re hearing stories that are horror stories. ... We think there is going to be a lot of litigation because we have so much evidence and so much proof.”
THE FACTS: Trump has produced no evidence of systemic problems in voting or counting. In fact, the ballot-counting process across the country has been running smoothly for the most part, even with the U.S. in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic.
One of his main complaints, that counting spilled over past Election Day, is meritless. No presidential election has had all the votes counted the same day, and there is no law or even expectation that that should be the case. The surge in mailed ballots and the high turnout have made the process slower than usual in some, but not all, cases.
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TRUMP: “In Pennsylvania partisan Democrats have allowed ballots in the state to be received three days after the election and we think much more than that and they are counting those without any postmarks or any identification whatsoever.”
THE FACTS: “Partisan Democrats” didn’t ordain this. It was the state Supreme Court that ruled ballots mailed before the end of Election Day could be received up to three days later and still be counted. The U.S. Supreme Court examined the case and did not stand in the way of the three-day timeframe. It may review the matter again later.
A number of other states have also made accommodations for the crush of mailed ballots.
TRUMP: “Pennsylvania Democrats have gone to the state Supreme Court to try and ban our election observers. ... They don’t want anybody in there. They don’t want anybody watching them while they are counting the ballots.”
THE FACTS: That’s false. He is wholly misrepresenting a court case in the state. No one tried to ban poll watchers representing each side in the election. Democrats did not try to stop Republican representatives from being able to observe the process.
The main issue in the case was how close observers representing the parties could get to election workers who are processing mail-in ballots in Philadelphia. The Trump campaign sued to allow the observers to get closer than the guidelines had allowed. A court ruled in favor of that request.
TRUMP: “Our campaign has been denied access to observe any counting in Detroit.”
THE FACTS: That’s false.
Absentee ballots were counted at a downtown convention center, where some 134 counting boards were set up. Each party was allowed one poll watcher per board, said City Clerk Janice Winfrey.
She said she was not aware of any Republican poll watchers being removed but noted some had been “very aggressive, trying to intimidate the poll workers and processors.”
Mark Brewer, former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, said he was inside the convention center and access was cut off to some people from both sides at one point because of capacity restrictions related to the pandemic.
TRUMP: “The election apparatus in Georgia is run by Democrats.”
THE FACTS: No, the state’s elections are overseen by a Republican, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.
TRUMP: “The 11th Circuit ruled that in Georgia the votes have to be in by Election Day, that they should be in by Election Day. And they weren’t. Votes are coming in after Election Day.”
THE FACTS: That’s not an accurate description of the ruling in question or what happened in the election in Georgia.
Although the court ruled that votes must be in by 7 p.m. Election Day for them to count, an exception was made for ballots from the members of U.S. Military serving overseas. Those can be received until 5 p.m. Friday and still count. Election officials in Georgia are still counting votes, but they are votes that have been lawfully received.
TRUMP: “If you count the legal votes, I easily win. if you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.”
THE FACTS: This is baseless.
Neither Trump’s campaign aides nor election officials have identified substantial numbers of “illegal” votes, much less the mammoth numbers it would take to ruin an easy win by Trump. He frequently speaks as if mail-in voting itself is illegitimate. But it unfolded in accordance with state voting rules, in some cases adapted by officials to help voters get through the pandemic safely.
TRUMP, complaining that underhanded activity sapped his leads in important races: “We were winning all the key locations, by a lot actually.”
THE FACTS: The change in fortunes he speaks about is explained by the nature of vote counting in the states, not by any sudden surge of malfeasance that others have not seen.
Often, big cities are slower to report their numbers, and those votes tend skew Democratic. Likewise, many states tend to count mail-in ballots at the end of the process. That portion of the vote has tended to favor Biden, particularly because Trump urged his supporters in advance to avoid mail-in voting and to vote in person either early or on Election Day.
Trump finished election night with leads in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia, among the states most in play, then saw his advantage begin to fray Wednesday and past that. Biden won Wisconsin and Michigan; Georgia and Pennsylvania can’t yet be called.