U.S. President Donald Trump and his supporters are spreading false and misleading claims about how votes are being counted in key battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, calling into question the legitimacy of the vote.
In a series of tweets posted Wednesday, Trump baselessly claimed that the election was rigged against him, painting new vote totals caused by delays in mail-in and absentee vote counts as suspicious.
Trump supporters have also called attention to some U.S. counties that briefly paused or reduced vote counting overnight in these highly-contested states, alleging that they purposely stopped counting votes when Trump pulled ahead in the tally.
But officials across the U.S. have long warned that it could take days, or weeks, for votes to be counted due to the high number of mail-in ballots, which take longer to process and validate than in-person ballots.
Here is a look at some of the misleading claims about mail-in ballots.
DID SOME COUNTIES STOP COUNTING BALLOTS OVERNIGHT?
Yes, some counties stopped or reduced vote counting late Tuesday night and resumed Wednesday morning.
This is not suspicious. Unlike here in Canada, there is no national election authority in the U.S. States and counties have different rules surrounding when and how votes can be counted.
For example, in Georgia, where absentee ballots are allowed to be pre-processed, some counties experienced backups in counting and sent workers home overnight. According to CNN, some counties – such as Fulton County, the state’s largest county – kept a small team counting mail-in ballots overnight and resumed its count in full on Wednesday morning.
But in Michigan, for example, election officials worked through the night to count ballots.
Despite this, dozens of widely-shared social media posts baselessly alleged that vote counting was purposely stopped to either prevent Trump from pulling ahead in the race or to generate fraudulent votes for Democratic nominee Joe Biden.
In many key states, a small margin separates Trump from Biden, with large numbers of mail ballots yet to be counted.
But there is no evidence of voter fraud or evidence anyone has tried to swing the results in favor of Biden.
NEW VOTES BEING PAINTED AS SUSPICIOUS
Trump himself fuelled claims that rising vote tallies, caused by counting mail-in ballots, were suspicious or falsified.
“Last night I was leading, often solidly, in many key states, in almost all instances Democrat run and controlled. Then, one by one, they started to magically disappear as surprise ballot dumps were counted. VERY STRANGE,” he wrote Wednesday in a tweet that was quickly flagged by Twitter for being misleading.
These allegations were bolstered after his supporters began sharing poll tracking firm FiveThirtyEight’s graphs illustrating vote counts in Wisconsin and Michigan.
“Look at 4am. Straight up spikes. 99 [per cent] of votes went to Biden. WHAT!?,” wrote California Republican DeAnna Lorraine on Facebook.
The charts show an uptick in Democratic votes in Wisconsin before 6 a.m., and a bump in Democratic votes in Michigan after 6 a.m.
But, according to fact-checking site PolitiFacts, those spikes are because counties in those states released a large batch of results all at once.
“And these batches were NOT 100 [per cent] Biden votes,” Curt Villarosa, publicity manager for ABC News, which owns FiveThirtyEight, told PolitiFacts.
“Behind the blue line, there is also a red line representing thousands of votes Trump gained. There are also counter examples where Trump’s line shoots up suddenly when a favorable batch of results are reported.”
Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said the president would formally request a Wisconsin recount, citing “irregularities” in several counties. And the campaign said it was filing suit in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia to halt ballot counting on grounds that it wasn’t given proper access to observe.
WHY IS THERE SUCH A LARGE DELAY IN VOTE COUNTING?
Trump has long voiced concerns about the legitimacy of mail-in ballots. But the record-setting influx of mail-in ballots, leading to massive delays in vote counts, has added to the president’s criticism of mail-in voting and led to widespread allegations of voter fraud from his supporters.
Again, because there isn’t a federal election surveyor in the U.S., each state has different rules on how mail-in ballots can be counted.
Some allow those ballots to be counted prior to election day, while others aren’t able to start tabulating those votes until election day. Making matters worse, in some key states, mail-in ballots are allowed to be counted so long as they are postmarked on election day.
But these ballots are also harder to count, creating even more delays.
“When you cast a ballot in person on election day you, the voter, fill it out and then you personally feed it into a machine and it gets tabulated then and there,” Patrick Marley, political reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, told CTV News Channel Wednesday.
“For the mail ballot, a poll worker has to open the ballot, take it out, announce who the voter is and check it off on the poll list, unfold it, and then feed it into a machine. Sometimes there is a problem going into the machine because it might get folded and mangled in the mail and so that can slow down the process.”
In other words, the more populous a county is, the longer and more arduous the task is.