As his Democratic rival Joe Biden appeared on the verge of securing the number of Electoral College votes needed to win the White House, President Donald Trump leveled a series of baseless claims Thursday night against the system of counting presidential ballots.
Trump took to the lectern in the James Brady briefing room at the White House for a nearly 17-minute speech that included a number of partial truths and other baseless claims.
Several of the claims involved vote counting, specifically the counting of absentee ballots. In several states not accustomed to high volumes of mail-in voting, election officials could not start counting ballots until on or just before Election Day.
That means partial results posted on election night in those states included mostly votes cast on Election Day. Results are unofficial until all votes are counted and certified, which can happen days or weeks later depending on the state.
Trump voters were more likely to come out on Election Day, and Biden’s supporters were more likely to vote early. So as absentee ballots expected to favor Biden were counted, the former vice president began eating into Trump’s day-of leads. In other key states, absentee ballots have been processed for weeks. Some early results favored Biden, before day-of votes were counted, which favored Trump.
‘This is getting insane’:Republicans say Trump’s attacks on election integrity are dangerous
Here is a look at statements Trump made from the White House.
Statement: “We were winning in all the key locations, by a lot, actually, and then our numbers started miraculously getting whittled away, in secret.”
Fact: Trump led initial returns in several states, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, because early tallies included primarily in-person Election Day votes, which skewed toward Trump. Trump supporters were less inclined to take part in expanded mail-voting than Biden supporters, so Trump supporters overwhelmingly dominated the Election Day vote. Biden supporters dominated mail-voting by a 2-to-1 margin.
Election officials in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin could not begin processing mail-in ballots until Election Day, and Michigan only had only a 10-hour head start, making it take multiple days to count ballots in each state. Combined with the massive spike in mail-voting during the pandemic, it created a dynamic known as the “blue shift” in which Trump jumped out to an early lead but Biden passed him in many states as absentee ballots were counted after Election Day.
Georgia, unlike the three Rust Belt states, was allowed to begin processing mail-in ballots before the election. But it took election officials days to count absentee ballots in several counties, particularly near Atlanta, because of the massive load of ballots they received in the days before Election Day. For Georgia, mail-voting at this scale was new.
Statement: “Michigan, we won the state. In Wisconsin, we did likewise, fantastically well. And that got whittled down. In every case, they got whittled down.”
Fact: Trump did not win either state. He was leading in early returns. In every state, as counties tally votes and turn them into state election officials, the race changes. But the final outcome is not set until all counties report their votes, and until election officials tally any early votes or absentee votes cast within the state’s prescribed timeline. In Michigan and Wisconsin, Trump’s early lead diminished as additional votes were tallied.
According to the unofficial vote totals, Biden won Michigan with about 150,000 more votes than the president in the state with 2,787,544 votes to Trump’s 2,637,173.
In Wisconsin, Biden topped Trump by about 21,000 votes. State elections officials say the counting is complete. Wisconsin was the first state to flip. Four years ago, Trump won by about 22,000 votes.
Statement: “We’re on track to win Arizona. We only need to carry 55% of the remaining vote, 55% margins, and that’s a margin that we’ve significantly exceeded, so we’ll see what happens with that.
Fact: As of Thursday afternoon, Trump was about 57,000 votes behind in Arizona. Based on current estimates of the remaining uncounted votes in the state, the president would need to win about 58% of those to overtake Biden. In Maricopa County, the state’s largest county, Trump has not “significantly exceeded” that margin, but he did take almost exactly that proportion of votes in a batch released Wednesday night. It’s unclear if other batches of votes will keep him on that track. He also gained ground Thursday in votes released by Pima County, an area that’s traditionally more liberal, though not by 58%.
Statement: “We kept the Senate.”
Fact: Four key Senate races have yet to have declared winners, so the majority have not been determined. Democrats picked up a net gain of one seat but need two more wins – three if Biden does not win – to take the majority. One Senate race in Georgia is headed to a runoff, and a second appears headed that way, so the majority may not be known until January.
Statement: “We lost zero races in the House.”
Fact: Republicans lost two seats to Democrats in North Carolina, the state’s 2nd and 6th Congressional Districts, which were viewed as easy Democratic pickups after redistricting.
Statement: “The 11th Circuit ruled that in Georgia, the votes have been in by Election Day, that they should be in by Election Day, and they weren’t. Votes are coming in after Election Day, and they had a ruling already that you have to have the votes in by Election Day. To the best of my knowledge, votes should have been in by Election Day.”
Fact: In October, a 2-1 decision by the 11th U.S. Circuit of Appeals ruled against an August district court ruling that would have changed the absentee-ballot counting process in Georgia. The change would have allowed absentee ballots received up to three days after Election Day to be counted during the coronavirus pandemic. The appeals court ruled that only those absentee ballots postmarked and received by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3, could be counted.
Trump is correct in saying that the 11the Circuit Court ruled that ballots must be received by Election Day, but there is no evidence to support Trump’s claim that “votes” are coming in after Election Day on late absentee ballots. Ballots may have been received after Election Day, but they would not have been counted.
Statement: “In Georgia, a pipe burst, totally unrelated to the location, and they stopped counting and a lot of things happened.”
Fact: In Georgia, counting was stopped temporarily Tuesday morning in Fulton County, after a pipe burst at the ballot processing site, the State Farm Arena, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Fulton Commission Chairman Robb Pitts said the pipe broke around 6 a.m. and the repair took two hours, the AJC reported. No ballots were damaged.
Statement: “In Pennsylvania, partisan Democrats have allowed the ballots to be received three days after the election, and we think much more than that. And they are counting those with any identification whatsoever. So you don’t have postmarks, you don’t have identification.”
Fact: On Oct. 19, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed Pennsylvania to accept mail-in ballots up to three days after the Nov. 3 election. The ruling was considered a victory for Democrats, and the court was divided 4-4, upholding the state Supreme Court decision that allowed counties to receive these ballots by Nov. 6, even without a clear postmark.
Later last month, the Supreme Court then declined a request from Pennsylvania Republicans seeking an expedited review of the state Supreme Court’s decision.
After the decision, Justice Samuel Alito issued a statement – joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch – saying, “I reluctantly conclude that there is simply not enough time at this late date to decide the question before the election,” but did leave the door open for a post-election review.
Earlier Thursday, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat, vowed the vote counting would be non-partisan, telling reporters she will do “everything in my power to make sure every voter, every candidate and every party has access to a fair, free, safe and secure election.”
Statement: In Michigan, “Batches came in, and nobody know where they came from. We’ve been denied access. Counting was halted for hours and hours on election night with results withheld from major Democrat-run locations only to appear later, and they all had the name ‘Biden’ on them or just about all, which is a little strange.”
Fact: Votes did not just appear in Michigan. A typo in a tweet from DecisionDeskHQ led to widespread claims on social media that over 138,000 ballots all for Joe Biden were recorded in Michigan overnight Tuesday. DecisionDeskHQ, in posting results from Shiawassee County, plugged in the number 153,710 for Biden instead of the accurate 15,371. As a result, Biden’s total quickly ballooned not only in the county tally, but also in the statewide tally. The errors were only up for about 15 minutes, but some national political news sites retweeted the erroneous information.
After the media controversy swelled, DecisionDeskHQ tweeted: “This morning there was a clerical error in the Shiawassee, MI county presidential data. Once we identified the error, we cleared the erroneous data and updated it with the correct data as provided by officials. We stand by our data as reflected on https://results.decisiondeskhq.com.”
Statement: “Our campaign has been denied access to observe any counting in Detroit. Detroit is another place, and I wouldn’t say the best reputation for election integrity. Poll workers in Michigan were duplicating ballots. When our observers attempted to challenge the activity, they jumped in front of the volunteers to block their view so they couldn’t see what they were doing. And it became a little bit dangerous.”
Statement: In Detroit, “When our observers attempted to challenge that activity, the poll workers jumped in front of the volunteers to block their view so that they couldn’t see what they were doing, and it became a little bit dangerous.”
Fact: Some 134 Republican poll challengers were already inside the vote counting area when this happened, along with a similar number of Democratic and independent observers. Posterboards were placed on some of the windows inside the counting area because protesters outside were yelling at the counters inside to “stop the count,” and disrupting and threatening workers.
Trump repeated a series of inaccurate and misleading statements about vote-counting efforts in the city. The allegations mirror those included in conspiracy theories circulating on the internet, repeatedly debunked by the Detroit Free Press and others throughout the day: batches of unaccounted for ballots showing up late, poll observers being denied access to watch ballots be counted and poll workers “duplicating ballots.”
None of this is true; no evidence has been presented by Trump, his campaign or supporters indicating any counting irregularities in Detroit. The city is also a longstanding Democratic stronghold, where Trump earned only 7,682 votes in 2016 and 12,654 votes this year.
The Trump campaign lost a legal challenge in Michigan on Thursday, when a judge determined they lacked any evidence or legal basis for an ultimately moot claim to stop vote counting in the state.
Dozens of people showed up at a vote-counting site in Detroit after supporters of the president called for Republican poll observers to help “protect” the vote. Lawrence Garcia, the city’s corporation counsel and an election commissioner, told the New York Times and The Detroit News that the windows were covered at the site because people were taking pictures of the poll workers, which is not allowed. Other windows remained unobstructed so people could observe the count. Inside the counting site, there were about 225 Republican, 250 Democratic and roughly 70 independent challengers observing the count, Garcia said.
Statement: “In Pennsylvania, Democrats have gone to the state Supreme Court to try and ban our election observers, and very strongly. Now, we won the case, but they’re going forward. They don’t want anybody in there, they don’t want anybody watching them as they count the ballots. And I can’t imagine why. There is absolutely no legitimate reason why they would not want to have people watching this process. Because if it’s straight, they should be proud of it. Instead, they are trying obviously to commit fraud. There’s no question about that. In Philadelphia, observers have been kept far away, very far away. So far, that people are using binoculars to try and see.”
Fact: Trump’s lawyers have not alleged fraud at any stage of the process in lawsuits over observing the Philadelphia County Board of Elections’ processing of ballots. But they have fought to get closer to observe the ballots.
A trial judge ruled that the Board of Elections had complied with observation requirements in state law, based on what a witness for the Trump campaign testified. However, she wrote that she wouldn’t discourage allowing closer access, subject to COVID-19 precautions.
At the appeal level, the Commonwealth Court, the witness said, “the closest we can get to the first table (in the large ballot processing center) in each row is approximately … 15 to 18 feet.” The farthest table was about 105 feet away, the witness said. “We have attempted to get a better view using binoculars. But the process is — the extraction (of ballots from envelopes) is moving so fast that it’s really impossible to see, even using binoculars, the desks that are behind the first one in each row.”
The Commonwealth Court reversed the trial level court and ordered that all observers “be permitted to observe all aspects of the canvassing process within six feet” subject to COVID-19 precautions. The Board of Elections has asked the state Supreme Court to review the decision, saying allowing observers so close jeopardizes the safety of privacy of the vote-counting process.
Statement: “It’s amazing how those mail-in ballots are so one-sided.”
Fact: Trump himself voted by mail but has actively railed against mail voting for months. His supporters likely listened, as polling showed them twice as likely to vote on Election Day than early by mail.
Statement: “I talked about mail-in voting for a long time. It’s really destroyed our system. It’s a corrupt system.”
Fact: Mail-in voting has long been used around the country. In fact, five states vote exclusively by mail in all their elections: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah. Utah, notably, has a state government dominated by Republicans and voted for Trump in the 2020 election.
Statement: “I’ve watched a lot of different elections before they decided to go with this big, massive election with tens of millions of ballots going out to everybody, in many cases totally unsolicited. This was unprecedented in American history. They refuse to require signatures, identities or to make sure they are eligible or ineligible to vote.”
Fact: In exclusively vote-by-mail states – Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington – ballots are sent to all registered voters. They are not sent to all residents or all citizens.
Once voters complete their ballot, they seal it in two envelopes. A signature is required on the outside, which is checked when votes are tallied.
Several other states allow counties to conduct votes exclusively by mail. And it’s true that more states expanded mail-in voting options in 2020, in part because of social distancing concerns from the pandemic. California, Nevada, New Jersey and Vermont, for instance, sent ballots to all registered voters as a special provision in 2020.
Statement: “They had Joe Biden up 17 points in Wisconsin, and it was basically even. They were off by about 17 points.”
Fact: A Washington Post-ABC News poll did show Biden ahead of Trump by that margin roughly a week before the election. But it was an outlier. Every other poll showed a much closer race, including the final Marquette University Law School poll, considered the gold standard of state polling, which had Biden up 48% to 43%. That poll had a margin of error of 4.3 percentage points. Based on unofficial results, the race was within 1 percentage point, with Biden ahead by about 21,000 votes. That’s roughly a mirror image of four years ago, when Trump won by about 22,000 votes.
Contributing: Joey Garrison, Christal Hayes, Eric Litke, Craig Gilbert, Chrissie Thompson, Cristina Silva, Annah Aschbrenner, David Jackson, Courtney Subramanian, Kevin McCoy