During Tuesday night’s presidential debate, President Donald Trump refused to agree to urge his supporters to stay calm while the vote is counted after the November 3 election. He also would not say that he would wait for the election to be independently certified to declare victory.
Recent polling found that 32% of voters want to vote by mail this year and another 17% want to drop their ballots off in boxes, largely due to the threat of contracting COVID-19 through voting in person. That’s nearly double the 26% of voters who did the same in 2016. The surge will make it more difficult to count ballots and declare a winner the night of the election, and results could be delayed for weeks, especially in swing states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin where mail-in ballots can’t legally be processed until election day.
Moderator Chris Wallace asked the question of both Trump and presidential candidate Joe Biden before the end of the debate, and Biden agreed to both stipulations. Trump instead urged his supporters to go to polling sites and act as vigilante poll watchers, an act of voter intimidation that has been called illegal by voting rights experts. The President also falsely stated that vote-by-mail led to a significant increase in fraud, a statement that has been proved to be untrue.
In reality, vote-by-mail fraud is exceedingly rare in the United States. The right-leaning Heritage Foundation maintains a database of all recent instances of recorded voter fraud and found just 204 reported cases involving the fraudulent use of absentee ballots over the past 20 years— only 143 resulted in convictions. That means that over the last two decades, about 0.00006% of total vote-by-mail votes cast were fraudulent—far from the rampant manipulation that the President often describes.
In April, right-leaning legal group The Public Interest Legal Foundation released a report that the President often cites stating that more than 1 million ballots sent out to voters in 2018 were undeliverable, which they called a “catastrophe” for the vote-by-mail system. A ProPublica investigation, however, found that the organization had doubled official government numbers, and PILF later corrected the report to show that the number of ballots rendered undeliverable actually dropped between 2016 and 2018.
The President also once again refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power should he lose the election. Trump said that he himself had not been granted that peaceful transition—which is is false as Hillary Clinton conceded and he took office on January 20th, 2017—because he said Clinton and the Obama administration “tried to do a coup and spied on my campaign.” The President was likely referring to the Special Counsel investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections conducted by Republican special prosecutor Robert Mueller which led to Trump’s impeachment in December of 2019.
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