US Elections

US Elections 2020: When did Trump start his election fraud narrative over the 2020 vote?

Donald Trump gave another speech at the White House this evening where he again angrily railed about the counting of legally cast votes.

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US Elections 2020: When did Trump start his election fraud narrative over the 2020 vote?
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI AFP

President Trump continued his dangerous, baseless campaign to discredit the Presidential Election this evening, giving a speech at the White House in which he claimed he had “easily won” counting legal votes, but that “illegal votes” were being used to “steal the election from us”.

A central part of Trump’s claim is that in some races he was ahead in the votes counted, only to see his lead falling as mail-in ballots were counted. What he didn't mention is that mail-in ballots were expected to be mostly for Biden, as the Democrats had expressly asked their voters to vote early where possible to avoid the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic. Trump on the other hand, playing down the the threat of Covid-19, made no such request of his supporters.

Trump’s overall message is that the mail-in voting system is “corrupt”, despite all election experts assuring that the system works entirely correctly.

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Trump's false narrative over election fraud

Donald Trump’s election fraud narrative is nothing new, it’s a theory he’s been peddling for several months now and in fact became a central plank of his re-election campaign. Notably, as President Trump decided to run with no policy manifesto, the election fraud message became one of the staples he could fall back on at his numerous rallies, in an effort to gee up his supporters, eager to hear his conspiracy theories.

Trump's false claims over mail-in fraud began as states reacted to the coronavirus and began to make it far easier than normal to vote by mail to avoid voters being put at risk by having to go to a polling station. He latched on to what were small irregularities to blow them out of all proportion and make wild claims about systemic problems.

For example, Trump talked about a case of military ballots being thrown in the trash as proof of a conspiracy to steal the election. The reality was seven ballots were found in the trash in a Republican-controlled county by one individual, and authorities dealt with the case swiftly.

Trump has constantly maintained that universal mail-in ballots are a "scam", claiming, with no evidence that it will lead to the "most corrupt election" ever in US history. Experts and the evidence both say mail-in voter fraud is extremely rare. Universal mail-in ballots means that the ballots are sent to voters automatically, with no need for the voters to request the ballot.

Trump's legal failures on mail-in voting

Trump and the Republican party turned to lawsuits to try and shut down mail-in voting (or possibly to sow doubt in the minds of Trump supporters that there was fraud occurring) but got short shrift from judges, even some appointed by the Trump administration.

The Washington Post looked at 90 cases and found not one judge backed Trump's claim that the fraud could swing an election. "While Plaintiffs may not need to prove actual voter fraud, they must at least prove that such fraud is 'certainly impending'. They haven't met that burden... At most, they have pieced together a sequence of uncertain assumptions," ruled US District Judge K. Nicholas Ranjan in a case in Pennsylvania.

Trump claimed election fraud in 2016 too

The reality is that election fraud has been part of Trump’s entire presidential career, beginning with similar unsubstantiated claims about widespread fraud in 2016. Back then he claimed millions had voted illegally and he set up a commission to probe the situation - that commission ended up shutting down without finding any evidence to back up Trump’s claims.

Just to note, voter fraud is vanishingly rare in the US. The Brennan Center for Justice reports that Americans are more likely to be struck by lightning than commit voter fraud.