Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

In Pennsylvania Rallies, Trump Distorts Voting Issues


In the swing state of Pennsylvania, President Donald Trump repeatedly rattled off false and misleading claims about ballots and voting in arguing to his supporters “the only way we can lose, in my opinion, is massive fraud.”

On Oct. 26, Trump spoke in Allentown, Martinsburg and Lititz, Pennsylvania. Trump narrowly won the state in 2016, and its 20 electoral votes were crucial for his victory.

The 2020 election is the first time Pennsylvanians can vote by mail without a specific reason, thanks to legislation signed by Gov. Tom Wolf in late October 2019. As of Oct. 27, 1.85 million mail-in ballots have been cast in the state, according to the U.S. Elections Project run by Michael McDonald, a professor of political science at the University of Florida. 

In 2018, just 186,664 mail-in votes were tallied, according to the Election Assistance Commission.

Because of the surge of mail-in ballots, and a state law that prevents election officials from counting the ballots until Election Day, experts caution that the winner in Pennsylvania may not be known on election night.

Republicans in Pennsylvania have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to rehear a case on the deadline in the state for accepting mail-in ballots. The high court, by a 4-4 vote, upheld the state Supreme Court ruling that ballots mailed by Election Day (or presumed to have been mailed by Election Day) could be counted if they arrived by 5 p.m. on Nov. 6, three days after Election Day. 

Trump has made false statements about that case, too.

Wrong on Romney Votes

Trump falsely claimed in Allentown that Republican Mitt Romney got no votes or almost no votes in Philadelphia when he ran against President Barack Obama in 2012.

Trump, Oct. 26: That’s why Romney got almost zero. When Romney in Philadelphia, remember he got almost zero votes. How did he get zero votes in a city?

In fact, Romney received 96,467 votes in the city, about 14% of the total cast. That’s not a large percentage, but Philadelphia is a heavily Democratic city.

That’s similar to how Romney fared in Chicago, where he got nearly 15% of the total vote and zero votes in 43 precincts. Romney did even worse in Detroit, where he got only 2.1% of that city’s vote.

Four years ago, before he was elected, Trump made related claims questioning how some precincts could have “practically nobody voting for the Republican,” suggesting it was evidence of “rigged” elections. 

What is true is that there were 50 divisions in the city where Romney received no votes. The city had 1,687 divisions at the time, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. As we wrote, it was originally thought to be 59 divisions, but it was later discovered that votes had in fact been cast for Romney in nine of the divisions.

While that may be surprising, Joe DeFelice, who was head of election day operations for the Pennsylvania Republican Party that day, said there was no indication of vote fraud. He told the Inquirer it is “almost impossible” to remove votes from a Philadelphia voting machine.

So what happened? DeFelice said most of the divisions were in heavily Black neighborhoods in West and North Philadelphia.

“It was a presidential election,” DeFelice said. “You had a rich, white Republican running against a black Democrat.”

Governor Doesn’t ‘Count Ballots’

As he has said of other states headed by Democratic governors, such as Nevada, Trump falsely claimed that the Democratic governor in Pennsylvania is responsible for counting mail-in ballots.

Trump, Oct. 26: But the problem is how is he going to be the one when he tries to play games with sites that counts ballots, right? He counts ballots. It’s the governor.

Wrong. Under Pennsylvania law, the county boards of elections have the power among other things to “select and equip” polling places, to certify poll watchers, to investigate allegations of fraud and irregularities, and to count ballots and certify the results. The governor has no authority to count ballots.

Poll Watchers

Trump made two false claims about a lawsuit concerning poll watchers in Philadelphia.

Trump, Oct. 26: Did you see where they fought us because they didn’t want poll watchers. They took us to court and we had a bad decision. … This judge … he said no you can’t have poll watchers. So he’s saying we can’t even watch as they count the ballots. But we’re going to appeal it and we’ll end up winning.

First, it was the Trump campaign that filed the lawsuit in early October — not officials in Pennsylvania. After being denied access in September, the Trump campaign sued the Philadelphia County Board of Elections in order to have its campaign representatives be able to observe what was happening at new election satellite offices across the city. At those offices, individuals are able to register to vote, apply for and receive a mail-in ballot, and, if they choose to do so, complete the ballot and return it on site.

Second, Judge Gary Glazer didn’t rule that the campaign couldn’t have poll watchers at actual polling locations where votes are counted. He sided with local officials who said that the Trump campaign didn’t have a right under the law to send its representatives to the election board’s satellite offices because votes are not counted at those locations.

As Glazer explained: “The only activities occurring at the satellite offices are voter registration, application for mail-in ballots by individual voters, provision of mail-in ballots to individual voters, private completion of mail-in ballots by individual voters, and delivery by individual voters of their own mail-in ballots. No canvassing, re-canvassing, opening, counting, recounting, computation, or recording of ballots, votes, or voting machines is occurring at the satellite offices.”

Thus, he concluded, “Given their scope, timing, and purpose, the satellite offices do not constitute polling places where watchers have a right to be present under the Election Code.”

A Pennsylvania appeals court upheld Glazer’s ruling on Oct. 23.

Nine Military Ballots in Luzerne County

In Allentown, Trump continued his attacks on mail-in ballots, telling the crowd there was evidence of “massive fraud” across the country, mentioning “thousands of ballots.” But the one example he cited wasn’t an instance of fraud, and it involved nine ballots.

Trump, Oct. 26: It’s the only way we can lose, in my opinion, is massive fraud. And that’s what’s happening. Because all over the country, you’re seeing it. Thousands and thousands of ballots. How about the military ballots that were thrown into a garbage can — with the name Trump on it?

In Lititz, Trump also claimed that “they throw away ballots if it has the name Trump on it, boom.”

As we’ve written before, in September, nine military ballots — seven known to be cast for Trump, the Justice Department said — were found in the trash in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, about an hour’s drive northwest of Allentown. State and county officials have since said the ballots were discarded in error.

Jonathan Marks, the state deputy secretary for elections, told the Times Leader of Wilkes-Barre that paper military and overseas ballots sometimes are mailed in envelopes that are not clearly marked as ballots. 

“So it sounds like it was confusion,” Marks said.

A Sept. 25 statement by County Manager C. David Pedri said the incident involved a temporary contract worker who “incorrectly discarded” the material, which was discovered by the county elections director on Sept. 16, two days after the unnamed contract employee began work in the office. The employee was subsequently fired, and all trash from the employee’s short time in the office was secured and searched.

“While the actions of this individual has cast a concern, the above statement shows that the system of checks and balances set forth in Pennsylvania elections works,” Pedri said. “An error was made, a public servant discovered it and reported it to law enforcement at the local, State and Federal level who took over to ensure the integrity of the system in place. The Luzerne County voters should be assured that the election will move forward with transparency and integrity.”

G. Terry Madonna, a public affairs professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, told us “there are no serious studies” that show widespread voter fraud. “You can’t rule out that there will be mistakes by election officials, but it is not the same thing as fraud,” he said.

Nevada Requires Signatures

In Martinsburg, Trump repeated his false claim that Nevada voters are not required to sign their mail ballots and, if they do sign them, the signatures don’t have to be verified.

Trump, Oct. 26: You know, they want to have a thing in Nevada where you don’t have to prove signature, minor things like that. Right?

As we have written before, Nevada law requires mail ballots to include valid voter signatures, which must be verified by election officials.

Trump is distorting the facts about a law signed in August by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak expanding mail voting in the state. The law did spell out in more detail than previous laws the procedures for dealing with suspect signatures and provisions for allowing voters to verify them. But it did not change the signature requirement.

To counter such false information, the office of Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, an elected Republican, posted fact sheet on its website dealing with “Facts vs. Myths” about the 2020 general election.

While the bill did include language detailing how signature verification must be performed, the bill simply put into law the procedure that was already being followed for signature verification,” the fact sheet states. “The bill did not ‘water down’ or weaken the signature verification process.”

Distorting a Ballot Printing Issue

In Lititz, Trump made an apparent reference to an issue in Los Angeles County where about 2,100 voters accidentally received mail-in ballots that were missing the presidential race entirely. But Trump claimed the ballots were missing “one little thing, the name Trump” and referred to “25,000” ballots. 

Trump, Oct. 26: They printed ballots, some ballots, I think 25,000, were printed for certain states. It was missing one little thing, the name Trump. So a lot of bad things happened.

The president has made false claims about the L.A. County issue before, including in an Oct. 20 rally in Pennsylvania.

On Oct. 5, about 2,100 absentee ballots without the presidential race included were mailed, the Los Angeles Times reported. The next day, the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office said that the “printing error” affected “one precinct in Woodland Hills,” and had been corrected. “Replacement ballots were mailed to ALL impacted voters today after reaching out last night through email and robocalls to inform them of the issue.”

We couldn’t find any information about an issue involved “25,000” ballots. We’ve reached out to the Trump campaign about that and haven’t yet received a response.

Editor’s note: Swing State Watch is an occasional series about false and misleading political messages in key states that will help decide the 2020 presidential election.

Please consider a donation to FactCheck.org. We do not accept advertising. We rely on grants and individual donations from people like you. Credit card donations may be made through our “Donate” page. If you prefer to give by check, send to: FactCheck.org, Annenberg Public Policy Center, 202 S. 36th St., Philadelphia, PA 19104.

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here for more.