Before all of the votes in the 2020 election were counted, President Donald Trump wrongly claimed victory, calling for “all voting to stop” and claiming continuing to count legally cast votes would “disenfranchise” the people who voted for him.
Shortly before 2:30 a.m. on Nov. 4, Trump made his remarks from the White House, falsely saying he had already defeated Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, with millions of votes still to be counted in several too-close-to-call states. He baselessly claimed some kind of “fraud” had occurred.
As we’ve written, vote counting always goes past Election Day. There’s nothing unusual about that. Most states don’t start counting mail-in ballots until Election Day, and with a larger volume of mail-in voting due to the coronavirus pandemic, several states expected the vote count to take at least a few days.
“This is a fraud on the American public,” Trump claimed in his remarks. “This is an embarrassment to our country. We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly, we did win this election. We did win this election. So our goal now is to ensure the integrity for the good of this nation. … We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So we’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop. We don’t want them to find any ballots at four o’clock in the morning and add them to the list. Okay?”
In fact, 22 states — including 12 won by Trump in 2016 — accept postmarked mail-in ballots after Election Day.
For months, the president has been making false, misleading and unfounded claims about mail-in ballots and voter fraud.
In his election night remarks, the president aired his grievances about several states in which he was then leading, but which still had votes to be counted and were deemed too-close or too-early to call by news organizations that project winners based on early results. But he made contradictory claims, saying, “We want all voting to stop,” while encouraging the count to continue in Arizona, where he then trailed Biden in the ongoing tally.
Trump said “there’s a possibility” he could win that state, because “there were a lot of votes out there that we could get because we’re now just coming into what they call Trump territory. … So we want that obviously to stay in play.”
Similarly, he thanked “millions of people” who “voted for us tonight,” but claimed “a very sad group of people is trying to disenfranchise that group of people.” People who voted can’t be disenfranchised. The meaning of “disenfranchise” is “to deprive of the right to vote.”
If Trump were to halt the ongoing vote counting, that would be depriving people of the right to vote.
Votes Still to be Counted
Trump prematurely declared victory in several states — including Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia — where not enough ballots had been counted to project a winner.
“So we won by 107,000 votes with 81% of the vote. That’s Michigan,” Trump said. He added later, “We’re up 690,000 votes in Pennsylvania, 690,000. These aren’t even close. This is not like, ‘Oh, it’s close.’ … With 64% of the vote in, it’s going to be almost impossible to catch.”
“It’s also clear that we have won Georgia,” he said. “We’re up by 2.5% or 117,000 votes with only 7% left. They’re never going to catch us. They can’t catch us,” Trump said.
No candidate has “won” anything, yet. The mail-in ballots are still being counted, in accordance with laws that vary by state.
As we have written before, it was expected that two critical swing states — Pennsylvania and Michigan — would still have hundreds of thousands of outstanding ballots to count after Nov. 3, because state law prohibits election officials in both states from counting mail-in ballots until Election Day.
Pennsylvania could not even begin pre-canvassing — opening envelopes and preparing the ballots to be counted — until 7 a.m. on Election Day, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said at a virtual seminar held Oct. 20 by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University. At the time, she said that the “overwhelming vast majority” of ballots wouldn’t be counted until Friday, Nov. 6.
As of the morning after Election Day, Pennsylvania had reported that about half of the nearly 2.6 million mail-in ballots had been counted. (See the state website for an overall summary on mail-in ballot counting and details on each county.)
In Michigan, some cities or townships — those with populations of 25,000 or more — were able to start pre-canvassing one day before the election, but that wasn’t enough time to get the ballots counted by Election Day. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson told CNN on the morning after the election that she expected “a much more complete picture of Michigan by the end of today.”
“Hundreds of thousands of ballots in our largest jurisdictions are still being counted, including Detroit, Grand Rapids, Flint, Warren & Sterling Heights,” Benson said in a tweet on the morning after the election.
Not long after her comments, Biden had pulled slightly ahead as votes were tabulated in those Democratic-leaning areas of Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids.
Trump also misrepresented the results in Georgia. He claimed that it’s “clear that we have won Georgia” and “they can’t catch us.” But at the time he declared victory there were still enough votes to deliver a victory for Biden. The New York Times forecast, as of early today, gave Biden a slight edge because of outstanding votes to be counted in Democratic-leaning counties, such as Fulton and DeKalb.
Why the shift from Trump to Biden in these states? Democrats make greater use of absentee ballots and that has resulted in a “blue shift” in the days after Election Day, as documented in a March study that was coauthored by Charles Stewart, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Edward B. Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law. “Democratic campaigns have chosen to emphasize locking down their votes using absentees,” Stewart told us.
This is not to say that Trump is wrong and Biden will win. We don’t know. That’s the point. The process needs to be completed before either candidate can declare victory.
In 2016, absentee ballots in Pennsylvania broke in favor of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016, by a substantial margin — 58.6% to 41.4%, Stewart’s report said. But it wasn’t enough. Trump won the state and the presidency.
As he has for months, Trump railed against what he has called “unsolicited ballots,” or states where mail-in ballots were sent to all registered voters. But of the remaining states still in question on Wednesday morning, only Nevada had sent mail-in ballots to all registered voters.
Speaking in the context of “fraud on the American public,” Trump said, “And did I predict this, Newt?,” referring to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. “Did I say this? I’ve been saying this from the day I heard they were going to send out tens of millions of ballots.”
As we have reported, only nine states and the District of Columbia mailed ballots to about 44 million registered voters for the November election. Those states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, were California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington.
Of those, only Nevada had not yet been called by the Associated Press for either Biden or Trump as of Wednesday morning.
Trump has said that he has no problem with mail-in ballots when they are requested by voters (as Trump himself has done in past elections). “I say, ‘Solicited is good.’ That’s where you write in. You want, they send it to you, you know, et cetera, which still is not as good as being there, but it’s pretty good,” Trump said during a rally on Oct. 25 in Manchester, New Hampshire.
That’s how the mail-in ballot process worked in almost all of the remaining undecided states.
Some states, such as Arizona, Georgia and Michigan sent absentee or mail-in ballot applications — not actual ballots — to registered voters. In other states that still hang in the balance, such as North Carolina and Pennsylvania, voters had to request mail-in ballots independently.
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