As he has repeatedly in recent months, Trump mischaracterized, exaggerated, and lied about the risks of fraud in mail voting. And he doubled down on the idea that any delayed results caused by the extra time it takes to count mail ballots will inevitably signal a “rigged” election—an assertion that election officials and researchers strongly dispute, given that it can take time to process and count mail ballots accurately and fairly. That Trump did so in so bright a spotlight has election-watchers especially concerned.
"At the end of the day, elections are legitimate because the public accepts them as legitimate. Putting out a lot of disinformation meant to confuse people and sow unfounded doubt undermines our democratic system," says Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center's Democracy Program at New York University School of Law. "We’ve been conducting vote-by-mail in some form in this country since the Civil War. The president uses it to vote in Florida, and our military relies on it. Many states have had extremely robust systems for decades. The system is safe and secure."
Following are the 11 lies, exaggerations, and mischaracterizations that Trump managed to squeeze into one eight-minute stretch of the debate. If you exclude the times other people were talking, he hit well over two lies per minute:
"As far as the ballots are concerned, it's a disaster. A solicited ballot, OK, solicited, is OK. You're soliciting. You're asking. They send it back. You send it back. I did that. If you have an unsolicited … They're sending millions of ballots all over the country. There's fraud."
Trump started out by trying to draw a distinction between states where voters must request an absentee mail ballot ("solicited") and states where ballots are automatically mailed to all registered voters ("unsolicited"). He claims that his own absentee voting in Florida is exempt from his criticisms about fraud, because he requests the ballot. But fraud in states that historically vote only by mail—Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and Utah—is extremely low. A Washington Post analysis found that it affected just 0.0025 percent of ballots in the Colorado, Oregon, and Washington 2016 and 2018 general elections.Trump additionally criticizes the handful of states, like Nevada and California, that are sending mail ballots to all registered voters in 2020 for the first time because of the pandemic. But there's no proof that this approach has caused significant problems. Later in the debate, Trump would cite examples of supposed mail ballot fraud in states like New York and Virginia that do not proactively send ballots—and are therefore conducting mail-in voting in a way that passes muster, by his definition.
"They found them in creeks."
There is no evidence that mail-in ballots have been dumped in creeks, or any body of water for that matter."They found some with the name Trump—just happened to have the name Trump—just the other day in a wastepaper basket."Trump is referring to nine military ballots that were improperly (but accidentally) discarded by a temporary employee in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, in mid-September. On Thursday, the Justice Department made an initial statement about the incident that it later took down. It is extremely unusual for the DOJ to provide details of an open investigation. Ultimately the agency said that seven of the nine ballots were marked for Trump, but it did not share any evidence of foul play and pointed instead to the role of administrative error.