Fact-checking Trump’s false claims about Pennsylvania’s election before his supporters attacked the Capitol
Trump spent several minutes rattling off a slew of false claims about Pennsylvania’s election. Here are the facts.
President Donald Trump was wrong.
Speaking to supporters who gathered Wednesday in Washington to urge Congress to overturn his loss to President-elect Joe Biden, Trump spent several minutes rattling off a slew of false claims about Pennsylvania’s election. He encouraged supporters to march to Capitol Hill, and not long after, a mob of Trump supporters attacked the building.
Little of what Trump said was grounded in reality.
Here are the facts.
There is no discrepancy between the number of voters and the number of votes counted.
Trump’s false claim:
“Pennsylvania had 205,000 more votes than you had voters.”
The claim that there were more ballots than voters comes from a flawed analysis done by state Republican lawmakers who relied on incomplete data and a misunderstanding of how those data are collected.
A small group of Republican state representatives, led by Rep. Frank Ryan (R., Lebanon), announced last week that they had compared the number of votes counted with the number of “voters actually voted.” By their calculations, there were almost seven million votes cast but fewer than 6.8 million voters who participated in the election.
It was a stunning announcement. And it was wrong.
Any analysis based on vote histories is incomplete because those data are not yet finalized. Some counties are still finishing the work of marking every voter as having voted.
It’s unclear exactly what source the lawmakers used for their data — a spokesperson for Ryan did not return multiple emails last week — but a news release about the analysis attributed the data to the Pennsylvania Department of State’s voter registry. That database doesn’t have a complete list of the vote histories for every voter yet. There is no way to use it to determine the number of participating voters in the 2020 election.
“We are unclear as to exactly what data and what the legislators actually did to offer this so-called ‘analysis,’” the Department of State said in response to the Republican report. “But what we do know is some counties have not yet finished entering into the SURE system what are called voter histories.”
When the Republican report was released, Philadelphia, Allegheny, Butler, and Cambria Counties hadn’t yet finished uploading all their voter history data, the department said.
There’s no mathematical impossibility here, just the wrong use of election data.
Mail ballots received after Election Day weren’t actually counted.
Trump’s false claim:
“More than 10,000 votes in Pennsylvania were illegally counted even though they were received after Election Day.”
This claim refers to about 10,000 mail ballots that were received between 8 p.m. on Election Day and 5 p.m. the Friday after, a grace period the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had ordered to allow votes to be counted given concerns about mail delivery during the pandemic.
Republicans argued the state Supreme Court overstepped its bounds. Attempts to get the U.S. Supreme Court to block the deadline extension were unsuccessful, but the legal challenges remain before that court, which on Friday will discuss whether to take up the appeals.
Because of the ongoing litigation, counties are keeping separate the ballots that arrived by the 8 p.m. Election Day deadline set by state law and those that arrived in the three days after. While they were physically counted, those tallies have been kept separate the entire time.
The Pennsylvania Department of State didn’t include those ballots in its certified vote totals, meaning they weren’t part of the Electoral College vote.
No ballots were received by elections officials before they had been mailed out.
Trump’s false claim:
“More than 60,000 ballots in Pennsylvania were reported received back, they got back, before they were ever supposedly mailed out. In other words you got the ballot before you mailed it!”
As with the claim about discrepancies in vote histories, this appears to be based on a misunderstanding of how election data are collected. The key is to understand that the state database is old — it was rolled out nearly two decades ago — and run by humans who were stretched thin running an election with historic turnout during a public health crisis.
Here’s how it works: After you apply for a mail ballot, a worker processes and approves the application, then prints and mails a ballot to you. Later, when you return the ballot, the bar code on the envelope is scanned to acknowledge that it was received, which updates the voter history.
All of that depends on workers manually updating the system, and they were usually dealing with a massive backlog of ballots and applications. That means, for example, that a ballot application could have been received days before it was processed, or a ballot could be received weeks or even months before it was marked as received.
It’s not an automated system, and the data are imperfect.
The system also sometimes simply glitches, as was the case when voters received multiple emails telling them their ballots were on the way, even after they’d been received.
Dead people didn’t vote.
Trump’s false claim:
“Over 8,000 ballots in Pennsylvania were cast by people whose names and dates of birth matched individuals who died in 2020 and prior. Think of that, dead people!”
There’s only evidence of one attempt to cast a ballot on behalf of a dead person: Delaware County prosecutors charged a Republican with registering his dead mother and submitting a mail ballot in her name, along with registering his dead mother-in-law.
Other than that, there’s simply no evidence of ballots being cast in the names of dead people. Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt, a Republican, has had his office look into several specific claims about dead Philadelphia voters. None were real.
Another point about misuse of data: If you’re looking for matches between names and dates of birth, you’ll find plenty. There are more than nine million registered voters in Pennsylvania, and there are people who share the same name and birth date.
There are voters who are currently dead who voted in the 2020 election, but they were alive at the time, and they’re removed from the rolls once elections officials know about their death. But the seven million votes this election? They were cast by voters who were very much alive.
PolitiFact is a nonpartisan, fact-checking website operated by the nonprofit Poynter Institute for Media Studies.