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President Donald Trump speaks at the White House on Nov. 5, 2020, in Washington. (AP) President Donald Trump speaks at the White House on Nov. 5, 2020, in Washington. (AP)

President Donald Trump speaks at the White House on Nov. 5, 2020, in Washington. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman November 6, 2020

Donald Trump’s Pants on Fire claim about illegal votes

If Your Time is short

  • Trump and GOP allies have filed lawsuits seeking vote counting or other procedures in battlegrounds, but they have not proven voter fraud.

  • A few states with close races continue the legal process of counting mail ballots. As in every election, some will be rejected for missing signatures or other issues, but that’s not evidence of election stealing plots by the Democrats.

As vote counting continued, President Donald Trump offered a fresh round of falsehoods and wrongly suggested illegal votes are swinging the election toward Joe Biden. 

"If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us," Trump said Nov. 5.

We asked Trump spokespersons which votes he considered "illegal" and did not hear back. However, the rest of Trump’s remarks show that he questioned the timing of mail ballot arrivals and the counting in certain battleground states. 

As Trump continues to perpetuate a myth about widespread voter fraud, he hasn’t proved that illegal votes influenced the election. 

"So far we have seen no credible evidence of illegal votes in any state that could potentially tip the results of the election to Trump," UC Irvine law professor Rick Hasen said Nov. 6. "Assuming Biden wins Pennsylvania, I see no path for Trump to litigate his way to victory based upon unsubstantiated claims of fraud." 

The idea that Democrats would orchestrate a nationwide felonious scheme to count illegal votes would require voters and election workers in various counties (Democrats and Republicans) to coordinate and take actions that risk prison time. And it defies logic that such a scheme would take place that would aim to keep Trump out of the White House but have Republicans win seats in the House and potentially retain control of the Senate.

Republicans govern some of the states Trump has challenged vote counting. Nevada has a Republican secretary of state. Georgia has a Republican secretary of state and governor. Arizona has a Republican governor.

The legal process of counting ballots continues

The regular counting of legal ballots continued at the time of Trump’s remarks in a handful of battleground states.

Trump has targeted "late" ballots, but that’s inaccurate. State laws specify when mail ballots must be postmarked or arrive in order to be counted, and the grace period (if there is one) varies by state. States also vary in their policies on how early election officials can start processing mail ballots

Election officials have been following the processes in their state laws to verify and tabulate ballots. They have been rejecting ballots that violated state laws, such as omitting the signature on the envelope or sending it in past the state’s deadline, and only counting ballots that are legal, said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research. Many states give voters time to correct signature issues.

There are policies, too, across many states allowing political parties or others to deploy observers to watch the ballot verification and counting. Who can observe and what they can watch (and especially in the pandemic, how many can be in the room) can vary by state, but the underlying principle is transparency.

Steven Huefner, an election law expert at Ohio State University, said questionable ballots are set aside and not counted as they await an official review.

"Might an election official make a mistake and count a ballot that should not have been counted? Sure. Is there any evidence that has happened this election? Not that I have seen," Huefner said.

Litigation doesn’t prove election stealing

Trump and his allies have filed lawsuits in an effort to challenge vote counting and other procedures in states with close races. Judges have thrown out lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign in Michigan and Georgia. In Pennsylvania, a federal judge denied a request to halt ballot counting in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania Republicans filed an emergency U.S. Supreme Court request related to the arrival of mail ballots. 

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Litigation remains pending targeting Clark County in Nevada, the most populous county in the state with the highest number of Democrats and home to Las Vegas. 

The lawsuit alleged that in Clark County there were "over 3,000 instances of ineligible individuals casting ballots. Ballots have even been cast on behalf of deceased voters." The Nevada Republican Party sent information to the U.S. Department of Justice that alleged that 3,062 voters were no longer living in Nevada when they cast their ballots. The lawsuit also challenges the county’s use of a machine as a step in signature verification.

Whether any of those 3,000 or so voters were indeed ineligible to cast a vote remains to be seen. However there are circumstances under which a person who has moved can still cast a Nevada ballot, including if they left the state temporarily, are in the military or are students.

Regardless, 3,000 votes (and assuming all such votes went to Biden) would not make up the difference for Trump as of Friday afternoon, when Biden led in Nevada by about 20,000 votes.

Clark County Registrar Joe Gloria, who administers the election, said Nov. 5, "We are not aware of any improper ballots that are being processed."

Nevada expanded voting by mail due to the pandemic, which Gloria said resulted in a slower process to complete the count. But he explained that election officials are taking the steps required to verify ballots.

Ben Hovland, chairman of the bipartisan U.S. Election Assistance Commission, told PolitiFact that there was no evidence of illegal votes being counted to steal the election. Trump has made claims of widespread voter fraud repeatedly, including in 2016 when he said millions of illegal votes cost him the popular vote, a claim we rated Pants on Fire.

"Time and time again when rubber hits the road there is no evidence, no evidence in academic after academic study, in court case after court case — there was whole presidential commission election integrity to track down widespread voter fraud — none of those cases found widespread voter fraud," Hovland said.

It’s possible when all the vote counting is finished that election officials will find some cases of fraudulent votes cast, but there is no evidence of widespread fraud.

 "The reality is voter fraud in this country is limited," Hovland said. "It is isolated cases, usually small races where a few votes make a difference."

RELATED: Fact-checking Trump’s election fraud falsehoods in White House remarks

Our ruling

Trump said, "If you count the legal votes, I easily win. If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us."

At the time of Trump’s comments the process of counting legal ballots continued in a handful of states with close races. Election experts say that local election officials are proceeding by following their state laws to count and verify ballots.

There is no evidence that proper counting of legal votes automatically means Trump wins. And there is no evidence of widespread counting of illegal votes or any scheme by Democrats to steal the election.

We rate this statement Pants on Fire!

 

Our Sources

Rev.com, President Donald Trump remarks, Nov. 5, 2020

National Conference of State Legislatures, VOPP: Table 11: Receipt and Postmark Deadlines for Absentee Ballots, Sept. 29, 2020

National Conference of State Legislatures, Absentee and Mail Voting Policies in Effect for the 2020 Election, Nov. 3, 2020

National Conference of State Legislatures, Policies for Election Observers, Oct. 13, 2020

U.S. District Court, Nevada lawsuit, Nov. 5, 2020

WHYY, Federal judge dismisses Trump’s attempt to stop vote counting in Philadelphia, Nov. 5, 2020

Nevada GOP, Tweet, Nov. 5, 2020

Nevada Independent reporter Riley Snyder, Tweet, Nov. 5, 2020

Nevada Independent, NV Republicans file last-minute federal lawsuit seeking to stop automated signature verification in Clark County, Nov. 5, 2020

Clark County Registrar Joe Gloria, Press conference, Nov. 5, 2020

Lawfare, Election Observation: Rules and Laws, Oct. 19, 2020

SCOTUS Blog, Tweet, Nov. 6, 2020

PolitiFact, Fact-checking Trump’s election fraud falsehoods in White House remarks, Nov. 5, 2020

PolitiFact, Trump’s cascade of falsehoods about voting by mail, Nov. 1, 2020

PolitiFact, Donald Trump's Pants on Fire claim that millions of illegal votes cost him popular vote victory, Nov. 28, 2016

Telephone interview, Ben Hovland, chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Nov. 6, 2020

Email interview, Jennifer Russell, spokesperson for Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, Nov. 6, 2020

Email interview, Steven Huefner, law professor at Ohio State University, Nov. 6, 2020

Email interview, Richard L. Hasen, professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine, Nov. 6, 2020

Email interview, Amber McReynolds, CEO of the NAtional Vote at Home Institute, Nov. 6, 2020

Email interview, David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, Nov. 6, 2020

 

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Donald Trump’s Pants on Fire claim about illegal votes

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