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AP FACT CHECK: Trump's election agitations and distortions

“While certain pockets of the country have seen their share of absentee-ballot scandals, problems are extremely rare in the five states that rely primarily on vote-by-mail, including the heavily Republican state of Utah.” Indeed, election experts widely say that all forms of voter fraud are rare.

PTI | Washington DC | Updated: 01-08-2020 17:56 IST | Created: 01-08-2020 17:56 IST
AP FACT CHECK: Trump's election agitations and distortions

Heads snapped and eyes rolled when President Donald Trump made a case for considering an election postponement in the pandemic. Republican and Democratic lawmakers, who agree on precious little, said forget about it. Among them, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed November 3 is set in stone.

But with Trump previewing his angry discontent if the election is not to his liking, will the foundational rock of the republic hold? Such questions will shadow the remainder of the campaign now that Trump has explicitly challenged a process that has unfolded on schedule through world wars, the Civil War and every existential calamity in history. A look at Trump's statement on the subject, his latest distortions of Democratic rival Joe Biden's record and more from the past week: ELECTION AGITATION TRUMP: “Must know Election results on the night of the Election, not days, months, or even years later!” — tweet Thursday.

TRUMP: “I want to have the result of the election. I don't want to be waiting around for weeks and months.” — news conference Thursday. THE FACTS: He's demanding something no one can deliver. The president appeared unaware that American democracy can't be shaped to produce a same-day result to sate his impatience.

There's certainly no requirement for a winner to be declared election night, and the prospect of having to wait to know who won has not been used as justification to try to delay the vote itself. State election officials in some battleground states recently warned it may take days to count an expected surge of ballots that people send by mail because they don't feel safe showing up to the polls. In an election as close as 2016′s, a delayed tally in key states could keep the outcome from being quickly known.

Delayed results are common in a few states where elections are already conducted largely by mail. But a presidential election hasn't been left in limbo since 2000, when ballot irregularities in Florida led to weeks of chaos and court fights. TRUMP: “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???” — tweet Thursday.

THE FACTS: Trump has persistently theorized about voter fraud and never supported those theories with facts. He appointed a commission to get to the bottom of voter fraud and it disbanded without making any findings. Time and again, voter fraud has proved exceedingly rare, and voting without going to polling places has become more common.

Multiple checks, such as signature verification in many states, must happen before a ballot can be counted, and experts say any fraud can be detected. Five states relied on mail-in ballots even before the coronavirus pandemic raised concerns about voting in person. Those states say they have the necessary safeguards in place to ensure that a hostile foreign actor doesn't co-opt the vote. More states intend to rely more heavily on mail-in voting for the same reason.

“Trump is simply wrong about mail-in balloting raising a 'tremendous' potential for fraud,” Richard L. Hasen, an elections expert at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, wrote recently. “While certain pockets of the country have seen their share of absentee-ballot scandals, problems are extremely rare in the five states that rely primarily on vote-by-mail, including the heavily Republican state of Utah.” Indeed, election experts widely say that all forms of voter fraud are rare. The Brennan Center for Justice in 2017 ranked the risk of ballot fraud at an infinitesimal 0.00004% to 0.0009%, based on studies of past elections. Even so, Trump has sketched wild scenarios, recently imagining “thousands and thousands of people sitting in somebody's living room, signing ballots all over the place.” As for the extraordinary step of moving the Nov. 3 election, the chances are almost nil.

The date of the presidential election — the Tuesday after the first Monday in November in every fourth year — is enshrined in federal law and would require an act of Congress to change. Democrats, who control the House, will not support Trump on this. Republicans, who control the Senate, are unlikely to, either. TRUMP: “Mail-In Voting is an easy way for foreign countries to enter the race." — tweet Thursday.

THE FACTS: No, it's one of the most difficult ways for a foreign adversary to meddle in a U.S. election. Swaying a federal election using absentee ballots would mean paying thousands of U.S. citizens, carefully selected in key cities in battleground states, who are willing to conspire with a foreign government and risk detection and prosecution.

Far easier and cheaper would be a social media campaign seeking to discourage certain groups of people from voting, something the FBI has already warned about. Or launching a sophisticated cyberattack on voter registration data that would eliminate certain voters from the rolls, causing havoc at polling places or election offices as officials look to count ballots from people who are “missing” from their voter databases.

Last month Attorney General Bill Barr raised the possibility that a “foreign country could print up tens of thousands of counterfeit ballots.” He argued they would be hard to detect, but that's been disputed by election experts..


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