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Trust Index: Fact-checking President Trump’s post-election claims

Mystery ballots? Voter fraud? We’re separating fact from fiction

Chester County election workers process mail-in and absentee ballots for the 2020 general election in the United States at West Chester University, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in West Chester, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Chester County election workers process mail-in and absentee ballots for the 2020 general election in the United States at West Chester University, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in West Chester, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s been three days since Election Day, and with states still counting votes, no winner has been declared in the presidential race. Without a clear-cut winner, misinformation and conspiracy theories are cropping up on social media where they’ve spread like wildfire.

These false claims have been amplified by influential voices, including President Donald Trump. Speaking to the nation from the White House briefing room Thursday, President Trump aired a lengthy list of grievances about the election and called the integrity of the vote-counting process into question.

To help separate fact from fiction, we’re vetting the president’s remarks with the Trust Index. While we can’t cover every single claim, we’ll get to as many as possible. Without further ado, let’s get to it:

Mail-in voting is rife with fraud

Once again, the president cast doubt on the legitimacy of voting by mail, saying mail-in ballots are the source of “tremendous” corruption and voter fraud.

“Democratic officials never believed that they could win this election honestly," he said. "I really believe that’s why they did the mail-in ballots where there’s tremendous corruption and fraud going on. That’s why they mailed out tens of millions of unsolicited ballots without any verification measures whatsoever.”

If this claim sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve covered this ground before. And, as we reported last month, there’s no evidence to back up the president’s claims about widespread voter fraud.

TRUST INDEX: Fact-checking 6 things you’ve heard about mail-in voting

Even though experts acknowledge fraud is more frequent in mail-in voting than in-person voting, News21 — a national investigative reporting project — found that mail-in ballots were involved in less than one-quarter of election fraud prosecutions from 2000 to 2012. Those represent 491 cases out of millions of ballots.

Moreover, about 1,300 proven instances of voter fraud were found among 250 million ballots cast over a two-decade span, according to the Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy group. Of those, the think tank found about 200 cases involved mailed ballots. Eight of those were in Florida and 10 more in Georgia.

Both mail-in and absentee ballots are paper ballots that are hand-marked by the voter, which the National Conference of State Legislatures says is widely considered the “gold standard” of election security.

As for verification measures, it’s worth pointing out that both Florida and Georgia require the signature on the ballot to match the signature a voter has on file with their supervisor of elections office. There are also rules in place spelling out who can request and pick up a mail ballot.

For those reasons, we’re rating this claim as not true.

Not True

After review, we've found this information is Not True.

What is the Trust Index?

‘Mystery’ ballots are skewing results

While unofficial election night returns initially had President Trump ahead in several states, his lead thinned in some as votes were counted later that night and in the days since. The changes led Trump, who prematurely declared victory in Georgia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, to challenge the validity of those votes.

“We want openness and transparency — no secret count rooms, no mystery ballots, no illegal votes being cast after Election Day," the president said. "We have Election Day and the laws are very strong on that: you have an Election Day and they don’t want votes cast after Election Day.”

TRUST INDEX: Want us to fact-check a claim or social media post?

First, the shift shouldn’t come as a surprise. Experts and officials predicted that the record number of mail ballots — 65 million, double that of 2016 — would inevitably result in delays. That’s because mail ballots take more time to process and verify than those cast in person. And in some states — including Michigan and Pennsylvania — it’s against the law to count those ballots before Election Day.

Besides that, it’s routine for votes to be counted after the fact.

In fact, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 21 states allow votes received after Nov. 3 to be counted. That includes Pennsylvania, which accepts ballots three days later if they’re postmarked by Election Day, and Nevada, which allows ballots with Election Day postmarks to be counted seven days later and those without postmarks to be counted three days later.

That a significant number of mail ballots favor Biden wasn’t unexpected either. After all, the president repeatedly and publicly undermined the legitimacy of mail ballots, making it less likely for his supporters to vote by mail. And, as the Associated Press reported, Democrats requested more mail ballots than Republicans.

The bottom line: it’s not much of a mystery. Carefully inspecting and counting tens of millions of ballots is a time-consuming process. For those reasons, we’re calling this claim not true.

Not True

After review, we've found this information is Not True.

What is the Trust Index?

Democrats are running the election in Georgia

While criticizing the vote-counting process in Georgia, President Trump indicated Democrats are in charge of the electoral process there. Specifically, he said: “The election apparatus in Georgia is run by Democrats.”

The president is mistaken on this point.

While the secretaries of state in Arizona, North Carolina and Pennsylvania are all Democrats, the same is not true of Georgia. Gov. Brian Kemp, the former secretary of state, is Republican and so is Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a former state representative who defeated Democrat John Barrow in a December 2018 runoff to assume his current office.

It’s worth noting that the secretary of state in Nevada, another target of Trump’s criticism, is Republican, too.

Putting political affiliations aside, there’s no evidence any official in the states the president mentioned has tried to influence the outcome of the election. And the president didn’t supply any proof, either. This claim is false.

Not True

After review, we've found this information is Not True.

What is the Trust Index?

Become your own fact-checker

Misinformation often spreads unintentionally. Someone sees a headline on social media and shares it without a second thought. But there are steps you can take to verify what you’re seeing before passing it along.

  • Use your critical thinking skills: As Fathm co-founder Fergus Bell notes, you don’t have to be a journalist to analyze what you see. A healthy dose of skepticism can help you separate fact from fiction on a daily basis.
  • Read more than the headline: Headlines can be misleading and they rarely tell the whole story. That’s why it’s so important to carefully read the rest of the story, which will help you determine what’s true and false.
  • Always consider the source: If something catches your eye, try tracking down the original source instead of taking it at face value at first blush. Once you’ve found the source, check to see if there’s an apparent bias.

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