Steve September 30, 2020
‘dumped-in-rivers-…-creeks-…-wastepaper-baskets’:-trump’s-falsehoods-on-mail-in-ballots

President Tweety McTreason launched into a lengthy and falsehood-riddled diatribe about mail-in voting Tuesday at the tail end of the first presidential debate, capping a chaotic night in Cleveland that was derailed almost immediately by an antagonistic president.

He made the claims during the final segment, on “election integrity,” in which moderator Chris Wallace asked, “What are you prepared to do to reassure the American people that the next president will be the legitimate winner of this election?”

After repeating the false claim that President Barack Obama’s administration spied on his campaign, the president turned to the issue of voting by mail. Trump has frequently criticized states’ expansion of voting by mail, which is being used to try to keep voters safe during the Covid-19 pandemic by reducing the need for people to congregate at the polls.

“As far as the ballots are concerned, it’s a disaster,” Trump said before claiming that there is widespread fraud in mail-in elections — that’s false. He also claimed without evidence that ballots were being dumped in rivers and creeks, and he made a sweeping, also unsupported claim that ballots were being sold by postal workers.

And while Trump has made many of these claims before — he has been complaining about voter fraud since his election, insisting without evidence that it’s why he lost the popular vote in 2016 — the debate gave Trump’s conspiracy-laden view of American elections a large audience.

Here are his claims, and the facts.

1. There’s fraud, and ballots get dumped in rivers and creeks

“There’s fraud. They found them in creeks. They found some with the name ‘Trump,’ just happened to have the name ‘Trump,’ just the other day, in a wastepaper basket,” he said. Later, he claimed that ballots were being “dumped in rivers.”

That is mostly false. Numerous studies have debunked the notion that there is substantial, widespread voter fraud in American elections, whether they are conducted predominantly by mail or otherwise. There’s also no evidence of fraud or of ballots’ being dumped in bodies of water — whether they’re creeks or rivers.

Nine military ballots were found after having been improperly discarded in Pennsylvania, prompting a criminal investigation and the firing of the temporary employee believed to have been responsible for the error. Seven of the nine ballots were cast for Trump, a federal prosecutor’s office said.

2. ‘Everybody got two ballots’

Ballots are “being sent all over the place. They sent two in a Democrat area. They sent out a thousand ballots — everybody got two ballots. This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen,” Trump said.

While mailed ballots are at times misdirected, that doesn’t mean fraud is occurring. As NBC News has reported previously, there are numerous safeguards to keep American elections secure.

3. We won’t know who won for ‘months’

“On November 3, you’re watching, and you see who won the election,” Trump said. “But you know what? We might not know for months.”

While election results could take longer than Americans are used to this year because some states don’t allow election officials to count mailed ballots until polls close, it’s more likely to take days and weeks, rather than “months,” as Trump suggests. Some states are trying to speed up their counting processes, too.

In 2000, a recount in Florida did end up taking a full month, because it was contested to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Count decided in favor of George W. Bush in the dispute on Dec. 12, 2000, handing him Florida and thus the Electoral College.

4. People can vote for a week after the election

“Can you imagine where they say you have to have your ballot in by November 10th? November 10th. That means, that is seven days after the election, in theory should have been announced,” Trump said, seeming to suggest that voters could cast ballots after Election Day.

No one can vote after Election Day, by mail or otherwise. For people voting by mail, some states allow ballots that were postmarked on or before Election Day to be counted even if the Postal Service doesn’t deliver them for several days.

5. ‘Mailmen are selling the ballots’

“Take a look at West Virginia. Mailmen are selling the ballots. They’re being sold,” Trump said.

There’s no evidence of postal workers’ selling votes, even though Attorney General William Barr made a similar evidence-free suggestion recently. In West Virginia, a mail carrier pleaded guilty to modifying a handful of ballots so voters would have received ballots for the wrong party. The carrier was reported to have said he did it as a joke.

Image: Jane TimmJane C. Timm

Jane C. Timm is a political reporter for NBC News.

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