Fact check: No, mail-in voting is not leading to chaos or fraud
Trump has persisted in groundless allegations that the election is certain to be plagued by fraud.
Seeing chaos where others don’t, Donald Trump is falsely asserting that voting by mail is proving to be rife with problems across the country. For the most part, the surge in early votes has been managed smoothly.
Trump also made the impossible demand that all votes be counted election night. That is guaranteed not to happen. Some states will be counting mailed votes for days and many may not have final results that night. It’s all part of Trump’s effort to sow distrust in the integrity of the election if he loses.
He introduced a new twist in his case last week, encouraging people who have already cast ballots for Democrat Joe Biden to change their vote to him. Some states allow people who voted early to change their ballot if they show up Election Day and nullify their initial vote; many do not.
Trump claimed people’s interest in changing their vote spiked after the last presidential debate, as measured by Google searches. In fact, people using Google were more interested in Jill Biden and the matching mask she wore with her dress at the event.
Trump’s statements on voting — and voting again:
TRUMP: “It would be very, very proper and very nice if a winner were declared on November third, instead of counting ballots for two weeks, which is totally inappropriate and I don’t believe that that’s by our laws.” — remarks to reporters last Tuesday.
TRUMP: “Big problems and discrepancies with Mail In Ballots all over the USA. Must have final total on November 3rd.” — tweet last Monday.
THE FACTS: No, the catastrophe Trump has warned darkly about for months in mail-in voting has not materialized. And “our laws” don’t require the immediate reporting of all election results in the country; delayed counting is unavoidable.
There have been sporadic reports of voters receiving mail ballots that were incorrectly formatted and other localized hitches in the record early turnout, but the large-scale disenfranchisement that election experts worried might happen has not been seen.
Trump has conspiratorially inflated local incidents, contending, for example, that mail-in ballots filled out for him are being dumped in rivers or creeks. This is a fabrication.
Three trays of mail were found by the side of a road and in a ditch — not a river or creek — in Greenville, Wisconsin, in mid-September. The sheriff initially said “several absentee ballots” were in the mix. The state’s elections officer later said no Wisconsin ballots were in the lost mail after all. No one said ballots marked for Trump were thrown out in the incident.
Trump’s motive for challenging votes by mail is plain: Democrats are dominating that segment of voting. Registered Democrats have also outnumbered registered Republicans in early voting in person at polling places, though the gap is narrower than with mailed ballots.
In short, Trump may need supporters to show up in huge numbers on Election Day if not before, and his baseless allegations of early-voting irregularities are designed to motivate them to do so as well as to portray the result as illegitimate if Biden wins.
As for his demand for a “final vote total” on election night, that flies in the face of how votes are counted and reported.
Apart from the usual lags in rounding up and reporting totals from every precinct in the country, the U.S. is seeing unprecedented numbers of early votes, and some battleground states won’t even start counting them until Election Day votes have been tallied.
Indeed, the Supreme Court is allowing Pennsylvania to count mailed ballots that are not even received by elections officials for three days after the election, as long as there’s no evidence that such ballots were filled out after Nov. 3. The court quashed an effort in Wisconsin to extend the absentee ballot deadline there.
Earlier in the campaign, Trump asserted that the winner should be declared on election night, another outcome no one can guarantee and one that may elude the country in a week. There is no requirement that the winner be determined Election Day.
He once raised the question of delaying the election, then dropped the thought, but has persisted in groundless allegations that the election is certain to be plagued by fraud.
TRUMP: “Strongly Trending (Google) since immediately after the second debate is CAN I CHANGE MY VOTE? This refers changing it to me. The answer in most states is YES. Go do it. Most important Election of your life!” — tweet Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Not so fast. Some states allow voters to switch their early vote, but laws vary and many have restrictions.
Minnesota, for instance, allows voters to “claw back” their vote and change it, but the deadline for that has passed. Wisconsin allows people to change their vote up to three times, though it doesn’t happen often. Florida allows voters who received mail ballots to choose to vote in person instead, but they cannot vote more than once.
If a voter has already sent his or her mail-in ballot and then goes to vote in person, “the (mail) ballot is deemed cast and the voter to have voted,” according to Florida law.
David Becker of the Center for Election Innovation said changing a vote in states where that is possible is “extremely rare” and very complicated.
“It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice,” he said.
Trump’s suggestion that he did so well in the debate that people who already voted for Biden wished they could switch to him is not borne out by the search engine’s statistics.
Google searches for “change my vote” did not crack the top 20 searches that night or after. Jill Biden was the subject of Google’s 20th most popular search that day. On Friday, the new “Borat” movie, presidential polls and college football were among the subjects drawing top 20 attention, not his debate performance.
The only notable uptick came after Trump tweeted about vote-changing Tuesday morning, claiming a lift from the debate that the search engine didn’t show. Only limited conclusions can be drawn from the list of popular searches because Google does not provide complete data.
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