By Gail Fitzer
In his latest baseless attack on mail-in voting, President Donald Trump tweeted on the eve of Tuesday’s presidential election that the counting of mail-in ballots in the key swing state of Pennsylvania would lead to “rampant and unchecked cheating” and “induce violence in the streets.”
Hidden by Twitter and labeled as misleading, the tweet and the same comment posted on Facebook, were just the latest of countless attacks on mail-in ballots by Trump during the most contentious presidential campaign in modern U.S. history, though last night’s attacks crossed yet another line by suggesting violence.
Without providing any evidence, Trump has continuously claimed that mail-in ballots, utilized at record levels due to the coronavirus with nearly 60 million votes cast, are ripe for fraud and manipulation. Now he and his Republican allies have ramped up their attacks, filing lawsuits in several swing states to stop the counting of mail-in ballots, which are expected to heavily favor former Vice President Joe Biden. It now seems evident that Trump’s attempts to discredit mail-in ballots throughout the campaign have been about suppressing and disqualifying the vote for Biden.
But there is a plethora of evidence that election officials, Biden’s legal team and supporters of Democracy and the right of every American to have their vote counted can point to in order to prove that Trump’s allegations have no basis in reality. Here is just some of that evidence:
· In an April 2020 analysis posted on its website entitled, “The False Narrative of Vote-by-Mail Fraud,” the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law noted that mail-in balloting was already “deeply embedded in the American electoral system before the coronavirus hit,” with one out of every four Americans casting a mail-in ballot in the last two federal elections. It noted that in five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington — mail-in ballots have been the main system of voting while in 28 other states, all voters have had the right to vote by mail without having to provide any reason for doing so.
Since 2000 more than 250 million votes have been cast via mail in all 50 states, and in 2018, more than 31 million Americans, or about 25.8 percent of election participants, voted by mail, the Brennan Center analysis said. “Despite this dramatic increase in mail voting over time, fraud rates remain infinitesimally small. None of the five states that hold their elections primarily by mail has had any voter fraud scandals since making that change. Oregon, the pioneer in this area, has sent out more than 100 million mail-in ballots since 2000, and has documented only about a dozen cases of proven fraud. That’s 0.00001 percent of all votes cast,” the Brennan analysis stated. “It is more likely for an American to be struck by lightning than to commit mail voting fraud.Mail ballot fraud is incredibly rare, and legitimate security concerns can be easily addressed.”
· Another report by the Brennan Center entitled “Debunking the Voter Fraud Myth” cited at least 20 studies between 2007–2016 that found “impersonation fraud” by voters “very rarely happens.” Among them was a 2014 study from Brigham Young University that examined impersonation fraud both at the polls and by mail ballot that found zero instances in the jurisdictions studied. The Brennan Center cited four court opinions including Crawford by the Supreme Court as well as nine different government investigations in states around the country that have found no evidence of voter fraud. Both the Courts and government investigations have concluded that “voter fraud is sufficiently rare that it simply could not and does not happen at the rate even approaching that which would be required to rig an election,” the report said. “Electoral integrity is key to our democracy, and politicians who genuinely care about protecting our elections should focus not on phantom fraud concerns, but on those abuses that actually threaten election security.”
· The Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington DC, reached similar conclusions on mail-in voting in a June 2020 report, and pointed out that Trump himself established a presidential commission to investigate voter fraud in 2017, but it disbanded without finding any. “There is simply no historical evidence to support the claim that mail-in balloting is inaccurate and fraudulent,” the report stated. Noting that President Trump, in mobilizing the Republican Party to fight mail-in ballots, has alleged that they favor Democrats and make it easier to commit election fraud, the Brookings Institution said that neither accusation by Trump “is supported by the facts.”
Brookings cited a report by The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank, that aimed to prove that voter fraud was widespread by looking at all the cases they could find in every state. “We combed through the Heritage data to look specifically at voter fraud related to absentee and mail-in ballots. They looked for fraud over a 36-year period and could only find 1,285 cases out of nearly two billion votes cast. That amounts to a rate of .0000007% … Our conclusion, from Heritage’s data: There is surprisingly little voter fraud and not nearly enough to justify blocking vote-by-mail systems in a pandemic … Republicans would have you believe that vote fraud is widespread enough to affect elections. But the fraud uncovered by the Heritage study in inconsequential,” the Brookings report stated.
· An exhaustive News 21 investigative reporting project, funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and the James L. Knight Foundation, found that of all known instances of voter fraud there were only 491 cases of absentee ballot fraud out of billions of votes case from 2000 to 2012.
· With help from the nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center, a Washington Post analysis of data collected by three vote-by-mail states — Colorado, Oregon and Washington — found that election officials identified just 372 potential cases of double voting or voting on behalf of the deceased out of an estimated 14.6 million votes cast by mail in the 2016 and 2018 general elections, or just 0.0025 percent.
· A New York Times Magazine investigation based on a review of thousands of pages of court records and interviews with more than 100 lawyers, activists and current and former government officials found that the idea of mail-in voter fraud was intentionally planted in the public discourse as part of a decades-long disinformation campaign by the Republican Party and outside actors. “This story did not originate with Trump. It has its roots in Reconstruction-era efforts to suppress the votes of newly freed slaves and came roaring back to life after the passage of the Voting Rights Act. But it is reaching an apex now, as a president who lost the popular vote in 2016 and is currently trailing in the polls harnesses the reality-warping powers of social media and the resources of at least four federal agencies to undermine faith in an election he could very well lose,” wrote investigative journalist Daniel Victor. The New York Times Magazine investigation, published on Sept. 30, found that law enforcement investigations into mail-in voter fraud have “repeatedly failed to find major wrongdoing in cases hyped for political gain, often based on sloppy data analysis.”
· A review by The Washington Post of nearly 90 state and federal voting lawsuits found that judges have been mostly skeptical of Republican claims of mail voter fraud, declining to endorse their arguments or dismissing them. In not one case did a judge support Trump’s claim that fraud is significant enough of a problem to sway the 2020 presidential election, according to the review published in late September. The Post found that judges appointed by Republicans and Democrats alike have doubted Republican arguments that lowering barriers to mail voting could lead to widespread fraud.
· Trump’s own FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Sept. 24th that the agency has not seen evidence of a “coordinated national voter fraud effort.” Wray said any attempt at fraud would have to be widespread and well-coordinated to change the election outcome, which he described as a “major challenge.”
· A Department of Homeland Security intelligence bulletin issued in September warned that Trump’s vote-by-mail fraud claims are almost identical to the disinformation Russia is spreading to undermine confidence in the U.S. presidential election. “Since March 2020, Russian state media and proxy websites have denigrated vote-by-mail processes, alleging they lack transparency and procedural oversight, creating vast opportunities for voter fraud,” the bulletin said.
· Federal Election Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002, said in May that there was “simply no basis for the conspiracy theory that voting by mail causes fraud. None.” Weintraub cited a range of reports and news stories in a more than 60-tweet thread to support her argument. She described the president’s claims as “dead wrong, crying wolf, false and a debunked lie” and warned they “may well undermine the American people’s faith in our democracy.”
· Trump has made a false distinction between requested absentee ballots and mail-in ballots sent to all voters in a state and the terms are used interchangeably. “In terms of security, both mail-in and absentee ballots are paper ballots hand-marked by the voter, which the National Conference of State Legislatures considers the ‘gold standard of election security.’ Forty-four states have signature verification protocols for mail ballots,” The New York Times wrote in an article entitled, “Fact-Checking Falsehoods on Mail-In Voting.”
Rather than pointing out any real problem of mail-in voter fraud, election experts agree Trump has actually been the one perpetuating the fraud by trying to manipulate the outcome of the election. That process has already begun with a spate of Republican lawsuits across the country trying to throw out ballots before they are even counted, force election board officials to give Republican election observers more access so they can challenge mail-in ballots, and nullify mail-in votes arriving after election day despite the fact that seemingly intentional mail delays are being blamed on changes imposed by Trump-appointed U.S. Postmaster Louis DeJoy.
As David Litt, a former Obama speechwriter and author of “Democracy In One Book Or Less” wrote so aptly in a Washington Post op-ed, “In truth, the real fraud occurring around the 2020 election is being committed by Trump and his allies … This type of election fraud is not about adding fake voters. Rather, it’s about subtracting real voters by using false claims of voter fraud to bar millions of eligible voters from the polls … False claims of voter fraud like the ones coming from the White House are, sadly, legal. But they are nonetheless a form of election fraud. Unlike voter impersonation or mail-in ballot malfeasance, this kind of fraud is real, it’s common, and it can change the course of our country. We should stop treating these outlandish claims as mere bluster or conspiracy theory and start treating them as the threats to democracy they are.”