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2024 Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump, right, greets supporters Jan. 23, 2024, at a campaign stop in Londonderry, N.H. (AP) 2024 Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump, right, greets supporters Jan. 23, 2024, at a campaign stop in Londonderry, N.H. (AP)

2024 Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump, right, greets supporters Jan. 23, 2024, at a campaign stop in Londonderry, N.H. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman January 30, 2024

States made voting by mail easier amid COVID-19 in 2020. Trump is wrong to call that cheating.

If Your Time is short

  • Many states changed procedures in 2020 to make it easier to vote by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some states loosened restrictions that required voters to provide excuses for using mail ballots. Other states sent mail ballots or mail ballot applications to all registered voters.

  • States applied these changes through authorized public processes that are open to public scrutiny, such as changing law or issuing executive orders or guidance. The changes applied to all voters, regardless of party affiliation. 

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Former President Donald Trump repeatedly blames his 2020 election loss on Democrats using COVID-19 to "cheat" — even after winning the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary in his 2024 presidential bid.

"They used COVID to cheat and they did a lot of other things, too," Trump said during his Jan. 23 victory speech in Nashua, urging his supporters to "never forget history" 

We’ve heard him say it before, including in October 2021, in May 2022, and along the campaign trail in April.

"Democrats used COVID to cheat," he said during a July 2021 Florida rally. "They illegally changed the rules in the key states and mailed out millions and millions of absentee ballots all over." 

We asked Trump campaign spokespeople for Trump’s evidence and received no reply.

PolitiFact has repeatedly rated claims that the 2020 election was rigged or that Joe Biden was illegitimately elected Pants on Fire. Trump is also wrong to state that Democrats used COVID-19 to "cheat." Although many states made changes to increase access to voting by mail, that was not a Democratic plot.

In Kentucky, the Republican secretary of state and Democratic governor, using powers granted by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, authorized no-excuse mail-in voting and no-excuse early voting in 2020, said Republican Trey Grayson, a former Kentucky secretary of state. 

"Changing election laws or policies to successfully conduct an election in the middle of a pandemic when those changes are authorized by law is not cheating," Grayson said. "Cheating would be doing so without any authorization." 

Many states changed election procedures due to pandemic

Trump’s comments appear to allude to states’ changing procedures in 2020 to ease voting by mail during the pandemic, when in-person gatherings appeared to raise the risk of viral spread. The National Conference of State Legislatures cited many examples including:

  • Relaxed excuses to vote absentee: In January 2020, 16 states required voters to identify a reason for requesting an absentee ballot. Before the 2020 general election, 14 of the 16 states changed their requirements for getting an absentee ballot. They included Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, West Virginia and Virginia.

  • Mostly mail-elections: In January 2020, five states used mostly-mail elections: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington. Before November 2020, California, Vermont and the District of Columbia temporarily joined this group. Nevada passed Assembly Bill 4, which stated that, under a state of emergency, all active registered voters would be sent a mail ballot, and made that permanent the next year.

  • Mailing ballot applications to all voters: In January 2020, no states had policies to mail applications for absentee ballots or mail ballots to all registered voters. In time for the 2020 general election, 12 states temporarily changed their policies and mailed ballot applications to all registered voters. They included Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Rhode Island and Wisconsin. New Mexico passed a bill that left this decision to each county clerk.

  • Drop boxes: In January 2020, just eight states had statutes authorizing the use of ballot drop boxes or set minimum standards for operations. For the 2020 general election, drop boxes were used statewide or in some cities or counties in 40 states and Washington, D.C., according to the Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project

The changes came about through legislative actions, executive orders and administrative decisions by state and local officials, said Rachel Orey, an elections expert at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

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Under no standard definition did this qualify as cheating. 

Many states — red, blue and battleground — aimed to make voting by mail easier so voters concerned about COVID-19 could avoid voting indoors. Voters of both major parties and independents could vote under the new mail ballot rules.

Many key battleground states, including Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, already had no-excuse absentee voting before the pandemic.

Some courts did rule against enacted or planned election administration decisions, including policies related to checking signatures in Michigan, curbside voting in Alabama and absentee ballot deadlines in Minnesota. But those rulings don’t signal cheating, either.

"Cheating is fraud, like stuffing a ballot box or altering vote totals," said Edward B. Foley, director of Election Law at Ohio State University. "Even if changing the rules for return of absentee ballots was an impermissible change, it was pursuant to a legal process (the rule of law), above board, and not a denial of the electorate’s preference by fabricating a different outcome than what the voters wanted."

These election procedure changes were executed as part of authorized public processes. In New Hampshire, the state’s attorney general and secretary of state in written guidance, and later lawmakers through legislation, said COVID-19 was an excuse to vote by mail in 2020.

"This clearly was not cheating and was legal and resulted in a strong but not unusual turnout notwithstanding the pandemic," said Bradford E. Cook, a Republican, lawyer and chair of the state’s Ballot Law Commission.

Sporadic cases of voter fraud have been uncovered since the election, including a small number of people who cast mail ballots in dead relatives’ names. But these accounted for a minuscule percentage of votes cast and would not have changed Trump’s loss. 

The 2020 election outcome was verified in many ways. States certified the results. Congress accepted the results. Trump and his allies lost in court more than 60 times

Republicans have laid the groundwork for election challenges in 2024. The Republican National Committee in 2021 launched a Committee on Election Integrity and later an Election Integrity Department. It participated in nearly 100 lawsuits during the midterms and is recruiting thousands of poll workers in preparation for November. 

Our ruling

Trump said Democrats "used COVID to cheat" in the 2020 election.

Trump didn’t elaborate. But in similar remarks in 2021, he mentioned states mailing out ballots.

Many states made voting easier during the pandemic by mailing a ballot or an application to receive a ballot to registered voters. Some states that previously required voters to have an excuse to vote by mail loosened that rule.

Trump is free to disagree with these changes, but he is wrong — and ridiculously so — to characterize them as cheating. These changes were made openly, through executive orders, administrative actions or law. And when a state expanded access to voting by mail, that was available to Republican voters, too. 

We rate this statement Pants on Fire! 

RELATED: Trump’s new ‘evidence’ that Biden lost in 2020 is ridiculously wrong (and dusty). We reviewed it.

Our Sources

C-SPAN, Donald Trump speech in New Hampshire primary night, Jan. 23, 2024

National Conference of State Legislatures, The Evolution of Absentee/Mail Voting Laws, 2020-22

Stanford-MIT Health Elections Project, Ballot Drop Boxes in the 2020 Elections, March 10, 2021

Bridge Michigan, Jocelyn Benson loses in court for third time over her voting rules, Oct. 25, 2023

WMUR, NH Senate rejects making ‘no-excuse’ absentee voting, registration permanent, March 18, 2021

ABC, Here's how states have changed the rules around voting amid the coronavirus pandemic, Sept. 22, 2020

Financial Review, ‘Miss me?’ Trump emerges for rally, turns on Republicans, June 28, 2021

Mediaite, Trump Tells Kellyanne Conway to ‘Go Back to Her Crazy Husband,’ Denies Claim She Told Him He Lost 2020 Election, May 6, 2022

Report of the Select Committee on 2020 Emergency Election Support, June 5, 2020

X post of video clip of former President Donald Trump on Real America’s Voice, April 28, 2023

X post of video clip of former President Donald Trump, Oct. 9, 2021

NPR, Supreme Court Blocks Curbside Voting In Alabama, An Option During Pandemic, Oct. 21, 2020

Reuters, U.S. appeals court upends Minnesota plan to extend deadline for receiving ballots, Oct. 29, 2020

The Hill, RNC launches ‘Committee on Election Integrity’ Feb. 17, 2021

The Hill, RNC’s McDaniel faces mounting GOP criticism, Dec. 7, 2023

Fox News, RNC launches 'Bank Your Vote' websites in 16 languages across all 50 states ahead of GOP primaries, Jan. 4, 2024

PolitiFact, Donald Trump's baseless claims about the election being 'rigged' Aug. 15, 2016

PolitiFact, Donald Trump’s dubious claim that 'thousands' are conspiring on mail-ballot fraud, April 9, 2020

Email interview, Trey Grayson, partner, Frost Brown Todd LLP, former Kentucky Secretary of State, Jan. 29, 2024

Email interview, Bradford E. Cook, attorney and chairman of the state’s Ballot Law Commission, Jan. 29, 2024

Email interview, Edward Foley, Director, Election Law at Ohio State University, Jan. 29, 2024

Email interview, Rachel Orey, senior associate director of the Elections Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center, Jan. 29, 2024

Email interview, Sean Morales-Doyle, director of voting rights and democracy at Brennan Center for Justice at NYU school of law, Jan. 2024

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States made voting by mail easier amid COVID-19 in 2020. Trump is wrong to call that cheating.

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