How to talk to your family about voter fraud
This Thanksgiving, fork over the facts.
Although Thanksgiving 2020 is undoubtedly different than years past, I hope you are still able to celebrate and give thanks.
Some traditions—like political debates—will thrive, even in the absence of a crowded table. Following a tumultuous election, political passions are always high, but this year the partisan divide has even affected how election results are perceived. This is a recent phenomena that holds dangerous implications for future elections.
While there is still no evidence of voter fraud, disinformation makes it confusing to know who to trust and where to look for nonpartisan information. This post will show you how to access official election results and answer common questions about the 2020 election.
What is the official process for reporting votes?
Below is an overview of the formal vote reporting process, starting with Election Day. States are currently at the canvassing and certification stage.
Deadlines differ by state, but here is a great resource to view each state’s various deadlines.
Where to find official results:
News sources announcing the results of the election prior to certification is par for the course. But if you’re skeptical, then go straight to the source: the Secretary of State and Board of Elections.
Each state administers their own elections and reports their results on a public website. Websites are constantly updated throughout canvassing and certification. All sites end with “.gov” (Aka, they are legit!). You can see a full list of state websites here.
Below are examples from three states’ election websites: Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.
As you can see, each state website is different, but every website allows you to filter results by office (President, Congress, State-level) and view county-level data. County-level data is the most helpful, because it allows you to examine voter turnout and results on a smaller, more easily analyzable scale.
Let’s use Williamson County, Texas as an example:
The data shows us a few things. One, not every registered voter in Williamson County voted (“Registered Voters” vs. “Votes Cast”).
Two, in Williamson County, President-Elect Joe Biden defeated President Trump in the general election by 4,066 votes, but the Republican candidates for Senate and the House won. This is a byproduct of two very common things: split-ticket voting, and voters only filling out their ballot for high-profile races. You can see for yourself that the vote totals decrease as you work down the ballot.
Three, this data also reports how many counties have completed the formal ballot counting process (see tab: “Precincts Reporting”). In Texas, the canvas process is complete for all but one county—the next step is the official certification of results (Texas certification deadline is December 3).
See how your state and county results compare here.
Common questions, conspiracies, and concerns:
Armed with this data, you now have powerful tools to fact-check fraudulent claims. Below are answers to common and submitted questions (thank you, Instagram friends!).
Q: Why do vote totals change from election night to the final, official result?
It is completely normal for vote totals to change slightly. This is the main purpose of the canvassing process: it provides states time to take a detailed look at all of the ballots, namely absentee and provisional ballots.
Using Washington, D. C. (where I was an election worker) as an example: Even though every registered voter was sent a ballot in the mail, people still had the option to vote in person. While the Board of Elections constantly updated their records to make sure no one cast a vote twice, the canvassing process allows them to double (and triple) check all of the ballots.
Other work done during canvassing includes: counting damaged ballots that cannot be read by machines, ensuring the vote totals match county populations, checking the signatures on mail-in ballots, performing audits and hand-counting, and documenting results for certification.
While ballot changes can arise from the canvassing process, the changes are slight—think a couple hundred votes at most (compared to the several hundred thousand ballots cast in a county). This stage merely allows states to double and triple check their work—and it’s all part of the process. Every year. Every election.
For more information on this process, see this CRS report.
Q: Why are state deadlines different?
Ah, Federalism! While there are national requirements, particularly in regards to civil rights, each state has the flexibility to make its own laws, ballots, and deadlines—similar to how states can pass their own laws about gambling, health care expansion, or drivers’ license requirements.
However, once the voting process turns to the federal stage (when the Electoral College votes), there is a unified deadline (December 14). Check out prior posts for more information about how states differ in election administration and ballot deadlines.
Q: What is the difference between “illegal” and “legal” ballots?
There is no such thing as “illegal ballots.” While a voter can behave illegally (voting twice, for example), ballots themselves are not illegal. It is the responsibility of every election official, in every state, to administer elections in accordance with the law—from mail-in ballots to in-person voting. Calling a ballot “illegal” is purposefully vague language. And this year, it’s often used to describe completely legal, mail-in-ballots.
Q: Isn’t this just like 2000 (Bush v. Gore)?
No. The 2000 election results centered on 537 ballots in Florida. The electoral college vote was so close that the outcome of one state would have been enough to change the outcome of the election. However, in 2020, Biden won the electoral college vote by several states—overturning Michigan, Pennsylvania, or Georgia (for example) would still result in Trump losing.
Plus, the legal arguments are totally different. In 2000, Gore requested a recount. The bulk of Trump’s cases in 2020 are requesting large groups of votes be thrown out entirely—not recounted.
Q: But President Trump says there is voter fraud! What gives?
What the President is saying on Twitter is completely different then what his own lawyers are arguing in court. While President Trump is fully within his right to pursue legal challenges and request recounts in close state, neither Trump, or his lawyers, have provided any evidence of “hundreds of fraudulent votes.” Out of the 30 cases that have been filed, 18 have been dismissed from a lack of evidence (at time of writing). Unlike Twitter, in court, there are penalties for lying.
Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of cases that do proceed target small batches of ballots that would not change the outcome of the election even if they were successful. And in Pennsylvania and Michigan, where Trump is trying to toss out large batches of ballots, the legal merits are… murky, at best. Here is an article outlining the the number of votes current cases are targeting, and at the bottom of this article is a full list of Trump’s current legal claims.
Bottom line: The Trump Administration’s own Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA) under the Department of Homeland Security referred to this election as “the most secure in American history.” There is no evidence of voter fraud, improper counting by machines, or illegal activity. Don’t believe everything you see on social media—instead, follow the numbers and fork over the facts.
Any other questions? Concerns? Conspiracies? Leave a comment or let me know here:
Personal note: Fair elections are a bedrock of American democracy. Having a large minority of the population refuse to accept the results is damaging and dangerous. I truly believe we each have a responsibility to combat misinformation when we see it. I encourage you all to confront those in your life (whether it be in-person or online) with facts about the election, and to do so with love and grace. ✌️& 💚 and Happy Thanksgiving to all!