Election 2020

As Count Continues, Trump Makes Baseless Claims of Voter Fraud While Biden Appeals for Calm

Trump claimed victory yet again and said he was being cheated—with no evidence. Biden, with a likelier path to victory, says, “Every vote must be counted.”

This article is part of Election 2020: America Votes, FP’s round-the-clock coverage of the U.S. election results as they come in, with short dispatches from correspondents and analysts around the world. The America Votes page is free for all readers.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in the press briefing room at the White House on Nov. 5.
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in the press briefing room at the White House on Nov. 5. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Donald Trump took to the White House podium Thursday night to make baseless allegations that Democrats were committing massive voter fraud with mail-in ballots in order to win the presidential election. 

The president’s claims appeared to be meant to further fan the flames of partisan rancor and undermine the integrity of the 2020 presidential election—particularly in the eyes of his most vocal supporters. They also carried the potential to trigger violence across the country. 

Though the claims were presented without evidence and seemed specious, some might set the stage for legal and political battles in the remaining swing states that will determine the ultimate result. Election observers have found no pattern of irregularities with the counting of the mail-in ballots so far. 

“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” Trump said, seeming to suggest that all mail-in ballots received or counted after Election Day were invalid. That contradicted public voting data released by states and prompted several news outlets to quickly cut away to correct the record. “If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us,” Trump added. He did not take questions from the media.

Trump’s unprecedented speech came as Joe Biden continued to cut into the president’s lead in Pennsylvania on Thursday night. Thousands of mail-in ballots from Philadelphia and surrounding areas were breaking toward the former vice president at numbers greater than 70 percent, according to state officials.

Election workers in Philadelphia, an important Democratic stronghold within the state, are counting ballots while being overseen by dozens of Republican observers—though Trump denied they had sufficient access. The Philadelphia City Commissioners are also livestreaming the vote counts.

Biden spent much of the day gearing up for a possible transition to the White House by receiving briefings on the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis along with his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris. In a speech from Wilmington, Delaware, he insisted that the states must be permitted to finish the counting. “In America, the vote is sacred,” Biden said. “It is the will of the voters—no one, not anything else—that chooses the president of the United States of America. So each ballot must be counted.” 

Some Republican lawmakers began distancing themselves from the claims of the president and his inner circle, asserting that they should either present evidence of cheating or respect the democratic process. In a tweet following the speech, Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger implored the president to “present EVIDENCE” if he had legitimate concerns of fraud. “STOP Spreading debunked misinformation,” Kinzinger wrote. “This is getting insane.” 

“Every legal vote should and will be counted—as they always are. Where there are issues there are ways to address them. If anyone has proof of wrongdoing, it should be presented and resolved. Anything less harms the integrity of our elections and is dangerous for our democracy,” said Michigan Republican Rep. Paul Mitchell.

Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, a Trump critic who voted to impeach the president in January, tweeted after the speech: “Counting every vote is at the heart of our democracy.” He did not mention Trump by name. Rick Santorum, a former Republican presidential candidate and CNN commentator, said Trump’s comments were “wrong and very dangerous” and called on Republican lawmakers to stand up to the president. 

Yet Trump’s ire over the mail-in vote appeared to be selective. He condemned ballots counted late in Pennsylvania that cut into his lead there, though there is no question about their validity. At the same time, he praised ballots that were coming into Arizona and Nevada late that cut into Biden’s lead in the two western states. With 214 electoral votes according to a New York Times tally, Trump would likely need to hold all three states to win reelection. 

The comments reflected an increasingly desperate tone from the Trump campaign as the president’s path toward reelection appeared to steadily narrow. Over the course of the day, Trump deployed some of his most loyal political lieutenants, including Richard Grenell, Pam Bondi, Rudy Giuliani, and Corey Lewandowski, to critical battleground states to challenge the legitimacy of the voting process, while his sons spread unsubstantiated rumors on social media that voting tallies had been manipulated. 

The Trump campaign also ramped up legal fights, filing suit to halt the counting of ballots in Pennsylvania and demanding that Republicans be granted greater access to the vote-counting process. Similar lawsuits were thrown out by courts in Georgia and Michigan.

Just prior to Trump’s remarks, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, said: “We just had the largest election in our state’s history. … We rolled out vote by mail for the first time in our state’s history. … The only irregularity we had was the president’s campaign rolling up in a clown car in downtown Philadelphia and having an impromptu press conference and saying ridiculous things and making up lies.”

Trump’s surrogates leveled equally unsubstantiated claims about the voting process. Bondi, a former Florida attorney general, said at a press conference in Philadelphia: “We’ve won Pennsylvania, and we want every vote to be counted in a fair way.” At the same time, the Trump campaign filed a lawsuit seeking to halt the counting of ballots in Pennsylvania. In each case, Trump loyalists failed to present evidence to back up their claims of voter fraud.

Jack Detsch is Foreign Policy’s Pentagon and national security reporter. Twitter: @JackDetsch

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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