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Trump Misleads on Ballots Again

In early October, about 2,100 voters in Los Angeles County accidentally received mail-in ballots that were missing the presidential race entirely. The county sent corrected ballots to them. But President Donald Trump appears to have twisted the episode to claim the ballots “had everything on it” except “my name.”

Trump made the claim in two campaign rallies. He told a crowd in Erie, Pennsylvania, on Oct. 20 about “phony fake ballots,” saying: “How about the ones that were printed without my name on it, right? They had everything on it. They had every race, they had everything. You had the Senate, you had everything, they forgot to put me down.”

In Macon, Georgia, on Oct. 16, he said: “They had one little problem on one set of ballots, thousands and thousands –thousands. They forgot to put the name of Donald Trump on the ballot, other than that the ballot was quite good.”

We asked the Trump campaign for support for the claim, as did our fact-checking colleagues at PolitiFact. Neither of us received a response. But, as PolitiFact noted, Trump mentioned the Los Angeles County incident in a tweet and in an Oct. 8 Fox Business interview, in which anchor Maria Bartiromo said: “Yes, more than 2,000 L.A. County ballots printed, mailed without presidential election — without the presidential race on the ballots.” Trump responded: “They forgot to put my name on the ballot.”

To be clear, the printing error left off Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s name too, and the entire presidential race. It was not a partisan issue, and it was immediately corrected.

The Los Angeles Times reported that about 2,100 of the absentee ballots without the presidential race were mailed on Oct. 5. The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office said on Oct. 6 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.”

“While this has impacted a very small number of Los Angeles County voters – we believe the faulty ballots were mailed to a single precinct of just over 2,100 voters, out of a total of more than 5.6 million registered voters in the County – we nevertheless apologize to those affected by the mistake,” the registrar-recorder/county clerk’s office said in an Oct. 6 statement.

The office encouraged voters to discard the mistaken ballots, but said if voters had already returned them, “we will cancel their original ballot once their new ballot is received.”

The claim is part of a pattern of Trump misleadingly or falsely describing unintentional ballot or ballot application errors, usually in key swing states.

In Georgia, Trump included several examples of what he called “a big con job,” saying, “we have to be very, very careful with the ballots”:

Pennsylvania. He mentioned “military ballots that had the name Trump on them and they’re in a garbage can.”

In September, nine military ballots — seven cast for Trump — were found in a trash can in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. State elections officials have since said the ballots were discarded in error, according to the Times Leader of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The state deputy secretary for elections told the paper military and overseas ballots sometimes are mailed in envelopes that are not clearly marked as ballots.

Ohio. “They found 50,000 ballots from Ohio,” Trump said. No one “found” the ballots.

As we’ve written, the Franklin County Board of Elections said in an Oct. 9 press release that “49,669 voters received an inaccurate ballot,” promising to have correct ballots mailed out in 72 hours. “We want to make it clear that every voter who received an inaccurate ballot will receive a corrected ballot,” the board said. “Stringent tracking measures are in place to guarantee that a voter can only cast one vote.”

North Carolina. “They find them from North Carolina, dumped in a river,” Trump claimed.

We don’t know what “river” incident he’s talking about, but 11,000 inaccurate pre-filled voter registration applications — not ballots — were sent to North Carolinians from Civitech, a technology vendor that works with companies and campaigns to increase voter registrations, the North Carolina State Board of Elections said in an Oct. 6 press release. Civitech’s COO apologized and promised to send out “corrected mailers with blank applications to all affected NC recipients.”

Wisconsin. White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, when asked about other claims by Trump that ballots had been found in a “river,” said on Oct. 1 he was talking about “a ditch in Wisconsin” instead.

Later that day, Meagan Wolfe, director of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said that no Wisconsin absentee ballots were in the three trays of mail found in a ditch in Greenville, Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. “She said she did not know if there were ballots from other states,” the paper said.

Virginia. “They find them, I think, 500,000 ballots in Virginia,” Trump falsely said. “They were incorrect, they’re printing them wrong.”

These were faulty ballot applications — not ballots — mailed to 580,000 mostly Fairfax County residents by the nonprofit Center For Voter Information with the wrong information. “We don’t believe this organization was acting maliciously, they just were not very diligent in their follow-through,” Gary Scott, the county general registrar and director of elections, told ABC7.

On Sept. 17, Trump accused another swing state, Michigan, of plotting against him.

Trump claimed in a tweet that Michigan’s secretary of state “purposely misprinted Ballots for the Military, putting the wrong names on the Ballot, and actually listing a member of another party as a replacement for Vice President @Mike_Pence.” He claimed it was “done illegally.” There’s no evidence anything was done purposely for the approximately 400 overseas and military ballots that may have been affected. Trump’s name was on them, but Pence’s wasn’t.

Instead, the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential candidate was listed as Trump’s running mate. A spokeswoman for Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told the Detroit Free Press that this was “a temporary error in the (Qualified Voter File) data that caused some ballots downloaded (Tuesday) to display incorrect ballot information when clerks downloaded the (Qualified Voter File) ballot sent to military and overseas voters. Approximately 400 ballots were downloaded by clerks during this period; we don’t know how many were sent.”

For more on Trump’s false mail-in ballot claims, see our story “Trump’s Repeated False Attacks on Mail-In Ballots.”

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.

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