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Fact-checking false claims about Pennsylvania’s presidential election by Trump and his allies

President Donald Trump’s relentless and false attacks on the results in Pennsylvania as the product of widespread fraud are completely disconnected from reality.

Supporters of President Donald Trump protest outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia on Nov. 8, a day after Joe Biden became President-elect of the United States.
Supporters of President Donald Trump protest outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia on Nov. 8, a day after Joe Biden became President-elect of the United States.Read moreRebecca Blackwell / AP

In the days since President Donald Trump lost his bid for reelection, he has relentlessly and falsely attacked the result in Pennsylvania and other battleground states as the product of widespread fraud. His assaults culminated last week in a 46-minute videotaped screed full of demonstrable falsehoods.

Politicians routinely exaggerate or misrepresent the facts, but never before has an American president refused as Trump has to accept the unambiguous result of a free and fair election.

Representatives from the Trump campaign have spouted fiery rhetoric about electoral fraud on a grand scale. But in courts of law, where proof is required and where there are penalties for lying, they haven’t provided evidence or alleged that even one vote in Pennsylvania was deliberately cast illegally. Rather, their legal efforts have been aimed at disqualifying votes that all evidence shows were legitimately cast under rules they disagree with.

As Judge Stephanos Bibas, a Trump appointee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, said in dismissing one campaign challenge last month: “Calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”

Below, we’ve gathered and debunked some of the most prominent false claims about Pennsylvania’s presidential election leveled in recent weeks by Trump and his allies.

FACT: Counting and reporting votes slowly isn’t fraud

“They are finding Biden votes all over the place — in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. So bad for our Country!”
Trump, in a tweet on Nov. 4, 2020

On election night, Trump appeared to have a strong “lead” in Pennsylvania, and he expressed confidence he would win the state. He even wrongly “claimed” Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes in a tweet before the race had been decided. But in the days ahead, as more mail ballots were processed and counted, Joe Biden pulled ahead and ultimately won the state by 81,000 votes, or about 1%.

The slow counting of mail ballots, and the way it eroded Trump’s early advantage, was the direct and expected result of Pennsylvania’s election rules — not fraud.

The counting process took longer than in other states because elections officials were prohibited from starting their work before Election Day.

» READ MORE: The months-long political saga that guaranteed a long vote count in Pennsylvania

Most of the votes counted that day were cast in person, and two-thirds of them were for Trump. That’s in part because Trump spent months falsely attacking mail voting as susceptible to widespread fraud, which discouraged his supporters from using the method. Biden and Democrats encouraged their supporters to vote by mail, and in the end, Biden won more than three-quarters of Pennsylvania’s mail ballots.

In-person votes are counted more quickly than mail ballots. So Trump’s early “lead” meant nothing other than that most votes for him were counted earlier than votes for Biden. That change in vote margins as mail ballots are counted is a phenomenon known as “the blue shift.”

FACT: Republican observers watched the counting of votes

“They didn’t even allow Republican observers into the building to watch.”
Trump, in a tweet on Nov. 18, 2020

One of Trump’s most frequent complaints is that Republicans weren’t allowed to watch Pennsylvania’s largest cities count votes. Trump has said observers were barred from even entering the facilities where votes were being counted.

That’s not true. And in every county where Republicans raised objections, courts found that officials applied the observation rules evenly to both parties.

Trump has directed much of his ire at Philadelphia, where at one point his legal team sought an emergency order to stop the count. But under sharp questioning from a federal judge, Trump’s lawyers conceded that “a nonzero number” of the president’s supporters had been allowed to watch.

“I’m sorry, then what’s your problem?” U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond asked, sounding exasperated.

» READ MORE: Trump says Philly Democrats stole an election in the ’90s. Is that true?

Trump’s team also complained that its observers were too far away. Initially, observers from both political parties were 30 feet away from the count. The city later allowed them to be as close as six feet away — the best it said it could offer given the need for coronavirus precautions.

In the end, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that state law only requires partisan monitors to have access to the room where votes are being counted. It does not grant them the right to hover over the workers conducting the count.

FACT: No, the number of mail ballots tallied doesn’t exceed the number submitted

Says more than one million Pennsylvania mail ballots were “created out of thin air.”
Trump, in a tweet on Nov. 28, 2020

A week ago, Trump tweeted that more than a million Pennsylvania mail ballots had been “created” and counted improperly.

The false conspiracy theory at the heart of the tweet involves data that State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) said he found on the Pennsylvania Department of State’s website. Mastriano claimed the data showed a 1.1 million-vote gap between the number of mail ballots requested and the number returned.

But the figures referenced in tweets by Trump and Mastriano conflate Pennsylvania’s June primary election and the general election. And contrary to Mastriano’s claim that the data have been deleted, they are still available.

Trump and Mastriano compared the number of mail ballots cast in the June primary election with the number cast in last month’s general election. The two figures have nothing to do with each other, nor are they evidence of fraud.

FACT: Democrats didn’t block Republicans from “pre-canvassing”

“Why did Pennsylvania Democrats pre-canvass votes in liberal areas, but not let Republicans do the same?”
U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), in a tweet on Nov. 10, 2020

“Pre-canvassing” refers to the process of preparing mail ballots to be counted, which state law prohibits before Election Day. Republicans have argued that “curing” flawed ballots that arrive with problems such as missing signatures — a separate practice that some Pennsylvania counties performed this year — is also a form of pre-canvassing.

A week after Election Day, one of Trump’s allies in Congress accused Pennsylvania Democrats of doing this, while blocking Republicans from doing the same. But that criticism, lodged by Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, is baseless.

All counties were allowed to notify voters of such problems, but not all counties did. That was a choice made by county elections officials, not one imposed by Democrats. Some of the ones that gave voters a chance to fix problems do indeed lean Democratic, but there’s no evidence that those counties treated voters differently based on party affiliation.

» READ MORE: From before Election Day: Pennsylvania struggles with how — or if — to help voters fix their mail ballots

A group of Republican candidates and voters filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate any mail ballots that were cured, arguing it wasn’t fair for some voters to get a second chance when others did not. That lawsuit was ultimately dismissed by the Commonwealth Court, and other courts have repeatedly shot down the argument that Republicans were disadvantaged by counties’ uneven application of ballot curing.

But some state lawmakers won’t let it go.

In a letter Friday to the state’s congressional delegation, Republicans urged it to dispute the state’s Electoral College votes because they think ballot curing violates Pennsylvania’s prohibition against processing ballots early.

However, the majority of mail-ballot requests — even in conservative counties — came from Democrats, so not curing them would disproportionately affect Democrats.

Gov. Tom Wolf sought to modify the rules and give counties more time to process ballots before Election Day, but Republican state lawmakers blocked that effort. This is why it took days to learn that Biden won Pennsylvania.

FACT: Dominion voting machines didn’t delete votes for Trump

“Report: Dominion deleted 2.7 million Trump votes nationwide. Data analysis finds 221,000 Pennsylvania votes switched from President Trump to Biden.”
Trump, in a tweet on Nov. 12, 2020

Among Trump’s supporters, the word Dominion has become synonymous with fraud.

It started when the president falsely claimed on Twitter that Dominion Voting Systems, one of the most widely used election technology firms in the nation, “deleted” votes for him and “switched” thousands of votes cast in Pennsylvania to Biden.

There is no evidence of this — and Trump won in 12 of the 14 Pennsylvania counties that use the company’s devices.

Hours after Trump sent his tweet, the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which oversees election security, released a statement defending the Nov. 3 election as “the most secure in American history.”

“There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised,” the agency said. (Trump later fired its director.)

Dominion released a statement that it “denies claims about any vote switching or alleged software issues with our voting systems,” and Ellen Lyon, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of State, said there is “no factual basis” for claims that thousands of Pennsylvania votes were compromised.

FACT: Trump’s legal team presented no evidence of fraud in court

“Specific allegations were made, and we have massive proof, in the Pennsylvania case. Some people just don’t want to see it.”
Trump, in a tweet on Nov. 28, 2020

Trump’s lawyers vowed to present proof of widespread voter fraud when they asked U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann last month to invalidate Pennsylvania’s election results — but they never did.

Brann stressed this point in his withering Nov. 21 opinion dismissing the case.

“One might expect that when seeking such a startling outcome, a plaintiff would come formidably armed with compelling legal arguments and factual proof of rampant corruption,” Brann wrote. “Instead, this Court has been presented with strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations un-pled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence.”

Brann is a former Pennsylvania Republican Party official and a member of the conservative Federalist Society who was appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama at the behest of Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican.

When the Trump campaign made its case again before three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the judge who wrote the decision stressed the same deficiency.

FACT: Trump didn’t challenge enough votes to alter the election

“The number of ballots that our Campaign is challenging in the Pennsylvania case is far larger than the 81,000 vote margin. It’s not even close.”
Trump, in a tweet on Nov. 28, 2020

To overturn the results of Pennsylvania’s presidential election, the Trump campaign would have needed to challenge and successfully invalidate enough ballots to wipe out Biden’s 81,000-vote margin of victory.

It didn’t.

The original legal complaint the campaign filed in federal court seeking to invalidate Pennsylvania’s results included no evidence that even a single vote had been cast illegally.

Trump campaign lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani acknowledged this during a Nov. 17 hearing before Brann.

“This is not a fraud case,” Giuliani said when Brann asked if he had proof to back up his claims.

The campaign’s amended complaint asserts — without evidence — that statistical analysis would prove some 70,000 mail ballots cast by Biden voters were improperly counted to seal his victory. But the campaign filed that amended complaint too late, and Brann declined to even consider it.

Separately, the Trump campaign has asked courts to throw out nearly 12,000 mail ballots with errors such as missing signatures or incomplete home addresses as well as 10,000 mail ballots that were postmarked by Election Day but arrived up to three days after.

Even if the contested ballots had been invalidated, Biden’s victory would still stand.

Our sources

The Philadelphia Inquirer, “President-elect Joe Biden tells a divided nation it’s ‘time to heal’ after Pa. clinches win,” Nov. 7, 2020

The Philadelphia Inquirer, “In video, Trump recycles unsubstantiated voter fraud claims,” Dec. 3, 2020

The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Rudy Giuliani and Trump’s last-stand push to overturn Pa.’s election results get a frosty reception in court,” Nov. 17, 2020

The Philadelphia Inquirer, “‘Voters, not lawyers, choose the president’: Federal appeals court rejects Trump’s last significant challenge to Pa. election,” Nov. 27, 2020

The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Here’s what the ‘blue shift’ in Pennsylvania looks like as Trump’s lead over Biden narrows,” Nov. 4, 2020

Twitter, Donald J. Trump tweet, Nov. 4, 2020

The Philadelphia Inquirer, “With the vote count now over, here’s how Pennsylvania broke for Joe Biden,” Nov. 29, 2020

The Philadelphia Inquirer, “How does a Republican lead on election night and still lose Pennsylvania? It’s called the ‘blue shift,” Jan. 27, 2020

Pennsylvania Department of State, “2020 Presidential Election Unofficial Returns,” accessed Dec. 4, 2020

The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Do Republicans oppose vote by mail? In Pennsylvania, it’s not that simple,” April 13, 2020

The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Most Pa. votes have been counted but top elections official says race is still too close to call; Trump’s lead narrows as mail ballots are counted,” Nov. 6, 2020

The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Philly’s counting of mail ballots has been slowed by a Trump legal challenge,” Nov. 6, 2020

The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Trump’s legal push to disrupt Pa.’s election results is on its last legs. What’s his campaign still fighting in court?,” Nov. 16, 2020

Reuters, “Fact check: Post mixes Pennsylvania primary and general election data to suggest vote-by-mail irregularities,” Dec. 1, 2020

Twitter, Senator Doug Mastriano tweet, Nov. 27, 2020

Twitter, Jonathan Lai tweet, Nov. 27, 2020

Opendata PA, “2020 Primary Election Mail Ballot Requests Department of State,” accessed Dec. 4, 2020

The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Pennsylvania struggles with how — or if — to help voters fix their mail ballots,” Oct. 29, 2020

The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Talks collapse on a deal to let Pennsylvania counties open mail ballots before Election Day,” Oct. 22, 2020

PolitiFact, “No evidence Dominion Voting Systems caused widespread tabulation errors that flipped votes for Biden,” Nov. 13, 2020

Spotlight PA, “Pa. counties reported no major issues with Dominion voting machines, a target of Trump and his campaign,” Nov. 30, 2020

Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, “Joint Statement from Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council and the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Executive Committees,” Nov. 12, 2020

CNN, “Trump fires director of Homeland Security agency who had rejected President’s election conspiracy theories,” Nov. 18, 2020

Dominion Voting, “Dominion Voting Systems Has Been the Target of Election Disinformation Seeking to Undermine Confidence in the Integrity of the 2020 Election. Here are the Facts,” Dec. 3, 2020

Yahoo, “AP FACT CHECK: Trump tweets a tall tale of ‘deleted’ votes,” Nov. 12, 2020

The Philadelphia Inquirer, “‘Not how the Constitution works’: Federal judge tosses Trump suit seeking to disrupt Pa. election results,” Nov. 21, 2020

The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Rudy Giuliani and Trump’s last-stand push to overturn Pa.’s election results get a frosty reception in court,” Nov. 17, 2020

The New York Times, “Giuliani in Public: ‘It’s a Fraud.’ Giuliani in Court: ‘This Is Not a Fraud Case,’” Nov. 18, 2020

The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Trump ups the ante in his Pa. court fight, asking a judge to upend the state’s Electoral College selection process,” Nov. 18, 2020

PolitiFact is a nonpartisan, fact-checking website operated by the nonprofit Poynter Institute for Media Studies.