Ever since the election results indicated that President Trump might fail to win reelection, he has tried to craft an alternative narrative of a stolen election accompanied by major fraud by Democrats. For months, Trump has been laying the groundwork for this strategy. According to our database of Trump’s false or misleading claims, starting in April the president has uttered more than 150 claims concerning fraudulent ballots or the alleged dangers of mail-in voting.
Here’s a roughly chronological guide to his efforts to spin the election result, which, after a 2:30 a.m. news conference Wednesday, has unfolded mostly on Twitter. Many of Trump’s tweets have been covered by Twitter with a warning that they contain inaccurate information about the electoral process. Since Trump’s tweets are often duplicative, we’ve grouped some similar ones together.
“I will be making a statement tonight. A big WIN!”
— tweet, Nov. 4, 12:45 a.m.
As Biden started speaking shortly after midnight on Wednesday to proclaim “we believe we're on track to win this election,” Trump issued his first post-election tweet, claiming outright victory.
The claim was false and premature, as vote-counting was in the early stages. News organizations had called Florida for Trump and Fox News had called Arizona for Biden, but the other battleground states were unresolved, and the president was far from the 270-vote threshold in the electoral college required to win the presidency.
“We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election. We will never let them do it. Votes cannot be cast after the Polls are closed!”
— tweet (marked by Twitter as misleading), 12:49 a.m., Nov. 4
This tweet, immediately flagged by Twitter, falsely claimed that Trump was up “big” (he had never led in the electoral college count as various news organizations called states) and, without evidence, accused Democrats of trying to steal the election. States do not allow votes to be cast after polls have closed, but some states permit the receipt of ballots as long as they are postmarked by Election Day.
“Millions and millions of people voted for us tonight, and, uh, a very sad group of people is trying to disenfranchise that group of people, and we won’t stand for it.”
— news conference, Nov. 4, 2:30 a.m.
Many more millions voted for Biden. As of Thursday, Biden had earned more than 4 million more votes than Trump — 72.1 million votes to 68.3 million — though the overall popular vote does not determine the presidential election.
“It’s also clear that we have won Georgia. We’re up by 2.5 percent or 117,000 votes with only 7 percent left. They’re never gonna catch us. They can’t catch us.”
— news conference, Nov. 4
Trump may have prematurely declared victory in Georgia. As of Thursday night, the margin had shrunk to about 1,900 votes, out of about 4.9 million counted, with under 10,000 to be counted in mostly Democratic-leaning areas.
“Most importantly, we’re winning Pennsylvania by a tremendous amount of votes. … With 64 percent of the vote in, it’s gonna be almost impossible to catch, and we’re coming into good Pennsylvania areas where they happen to like your president. … So, we’ll probably expand that.”
— news conference, Nov. 4
Actually, most of the votes to be counted were in Democratic strongholds. Unlike many other states, mail and absentee ballots could not be counted before Election Day in Pennsylvania because the GOP-controlled legislature refused to authorize it. As of Thursday night, Trump’s margin had shrunk to 41,000 votes, with about 300,000 left to count. Democrats maintain Biden will win a healthy victory here.
“We’re winning Michigan.”
— news conference, Nov. 4
Trump lost Michigan by a substantial margin — about 150,000 votes, or 2.8 percentage points.
“We’re winning Wisconsin.”
— news conference, Nov. 4
Trump lost Wisconsin by about 20,000 votes. With the margin under 1 percentage point, Trump has said he will seek a recount (which his campaign will have to pay for). Wisconsin recounts generally do not change that many votes.
“We won states, and all of a sudden, I said, ‘What happened to the election? It’s off.’ And we have all these announcers saying, ‘What happened?’ And then they said, ‘Oh —' Because you know what happened? They knew they couldn’t win, so they said, ‘Let’s go to court.’ And did I predict this, Newt? 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. I said exactly. Because either they were gonna win, or if they didn’t win, they’ll take us to court.”
— news conference, Nov. 4
This is baseless speculation. Because there were so many outstanding votes to be counted in swing states, networks could no longer call any races. The Biden campaign did not file any suits; instead, the Trump campaign has filed suit in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Nevada.
“Frankly, we did win this election. So our goal now is to ensure the integrity, for the good of this nation. This is a very big moment. This is a major fraud on our nation.”
— news conference, Nov. 4.
Another premature declaration, with no evidence of fraud in sight.
“Last night I was leading, often solidly, in many key States, in almost all instances Democrat run & controlled. Then, one by one, they started to magically disappear as surprise ballot dumps were counted. VERY STRANGE, and the ‘pollsters’ got it completely & historically wrong!”
— tweet (marked by Twitter as misleading), Nov. 4, 10:04 a.m.
“How come every time they count Mail-In ballot dumps they are so devastating in their percentage and power of destruction?”
— tweet, Nov. 4, 10:17 a.m.
“They are finding Biden votes all over the place — in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. So bad for our Country!”
— tweet, Nov. 4, 11:55 a.m.
“They are working hard to make up 500,000 vote advantage in Pennsylvania disappear — ASAP. Likewise, Michigan and others!”
— tweet (marked by Twitter as misleading), Nov. 4, 12:01 p.m.
“Wow! It looks like Michigan has now found the ballots necessary to keep a wonderful young man, John James, out of the U.S. Senate. What a terrible thing is happening!”
— tweet, Nov. 4, 1:43 p.m.
It’s math, not magic. Election workers are counting ballots. As more ballots are counted, the totals for each candidate shift, sometimes drastically. That’s because of the way states have set up their election systems, the different approaches taken by the Biden and Trump campaigns and other factors.
Biden encouraged supporters to vote early and by mail. Trump falsely denigrated the mail-voting system for months and urged supporters to vote in person.
Meanwhile, because of the coronavirus pandemic, states governed by Republicans and Democrats decided to expand mail-voting options this year. This year, mail-in votes are a much greater proportion of the overall vote when compared with previous elections.
Then, in three key battlegrounds, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the Republican-controlled legislatures rejected proposals that would have allowed an early start for counting mail ballots. The difference can be seen in neighboring states Ohio and Pennsylvania. The former allows early counting and has reported all votes; the latter does not and the count is ongoing. Officials in Pennsylvania began processing 2.6 million mail ballots at 7 a.m. on Election Day.
Add it all up, and what we’re seeing is something state officials, election experts and news reporters have been outlining for months. Vote counts in some states could show Trump ahead at first and then Biden taking the lead, or vice versa.
The “blue shift” in Pennsylvania, as the Philadelphia Inquirer dubbed it in January, reflects how Trump voters largely shunned vote-by-mail while Biden voters embraced it. The in-person votes were first to be added to the tally, but officials are still wading through the crush of mail ballots that they could not start counting until Election Day. According to news reports, Biden so far has a more than 75 percent share of those votes, so as the count continues, his total grows.
The dynamic was similar in Michigan: Trump encouraged voting in-person rather than by mail, Biden encouraged voting early, the state’s Republican legislature rejected a proposal to allow early counting of mail ballots, and the chips fell accordingly.
Ballots are not being “dumped,” as Trump claims. Vote totals are updated as officials round up more precinct totals.
“WHAT IS THIS ALL ABOUT?”
— tweet (marked by Twitter as misleading), Nov. 4, 10:35 a.m.
Trump and supporters such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and the right-wing Federalist publication, which does not disclose who funds it, have suggested fraud is afoot in Michigan because of a clerical error that was quickly corrected.
Data from Decision Desk HQ, which fed some news organizations’ interactive maps, showed that Biden received a 140,000-vote bump in a single update out of Michigan while Trump got nothing.
That does seem fishy, but rather than investigate, Trump, Cruz, the Federalist and some Republicans immediately raised the specter of fraud.
What happened? A typo.
“This morning there was a clerical error in the Shiawassee, MI county presidential data,” Decision Desk HQ wrote on Twitter. “Once we identified the error, we cleared the erroneous data and updated it with the correct data as provided by officials.”
As FactCheck.org reported, when Shiawassee County officials reported vote totals, a clerk added an extra 0 to Biden’s numbers, turning 15,371 into 153,710. The typo was corrected within an hour.
Trump’s tweet quoted another from GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak. But Mackowiak later corrected himself. Trump did not. Twitter covered the president’s tweet with a warning about misleading information.
“We have claimed, for Electoral Vote purposes, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (which won’t allow legal observers) the State of Georgia, and the State of North Carolina, each one of which has a BIG Trump lead. Additionally, we hereby claim the State of Michigan if, in fact,..... .....there was a large number of secretly dumped ballots as has been widely reported!”
— tweet (marked by Twitter as misleading), Nov. 4, 4:56 p.m.
Trump obviously cannot claim victory. Election officials in each state certify the winner of the presidential race.
In this tweet, Trump repeated his debunked claim about possible fraud in Shiawassee County, Mich. Pennsylvania did allow observers, but a state appeals court later granted the Trump campaign’s request that they be allowed to observe closer, within six feet.
Twitter labeled the “secretly dumped ballots” claim as misleading and flagged the first part of the tweet with this warning: “Official sources may not have called the race when this was Tweeted.”
“Our lawyers have asked for ‘meaningful access’, but what good does that do? The damage has already been done to the integrity of our system, and to the Presidential Election itself. This is what should be discussed!”
— tweet, Nov. 4, 6:24 p.m.
Trump has offered no evidence that the election’s integrity has been compromised, and none has been found. In fact, cybersecurity experts in the Trump administration and local officials say the process has been smooth despite the unusual historic circumstance of a deadly pandemic.
“Detroit Absentee Ballot Counting Chaos, Blocked Windows and Observers”
— tweet, Nov. 4, 7:01 p.m.
This is the misleading headline of a Breitbart article tweeted by Trump. Those inside Detroit’s TCF Center included Democratic and Republican observers, as the Breitbart article noted.
Trump is referring to a crowd of predominantly White supporters who were outside. They descended on the TCF Center and chanted “stop the count” as votes continued to be counted in Detroit, the city with the highest percentage of African Americans in the country.
“Police had to push back the crowds as they argued to be allowed in the vote-counting area. Republican counters [who were not already inside] shouted that they were unfairly being kept out, but Democratic challengers countered that it was not true because they were also being kept outside,” the Detroit Free Press reported.
“Fmr NV AG Laxalt: ‘No Question‘ Trump Would Have Won Nevada ‘Convincingly‘ Without Mail-in Voting”
— tweet, Nov. 5, 10:37 a.m.
Well, yes, if some Biden voters had not voted, Trump might have won. Nevada law allows mail voting, and the state’s top election official is a Republican: Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske.
“ANY VOTE THAT CAME IN AFTER ELECTION DAY WILL NOT BE COUNTED!”
— tweet (marked by Twitter as misleading), Nov. 5, 10:09 a.m.
“All of the recent Biden claimed States will be legally challenged by us for Voter Fraud and State Election Fraud. Plenty of proof — just check out the Media. WE WILL WIN! America First!”
— tweet (marked by Twitter as misleading), Nov. 5, 11:22 a.m.
“STOP THE FRAUD!”
— tweet (marked by Twitter as misleading), Nov. 5, 12:21 p.m.
“IF YOU COUNT THE LEGAL VOTES, I EASILY WIN THE ELECTION! IF YOU COUNT THE ILLEGAL AND LATE VOTES, THEY CAN STEAL THE ELECTION FROM US!”
— statement, Nov. 5, 12:37 p.m.
Trump continues to be the president who cried wolf, baselessly warning about voter fraud and a rigged election with a multitude of easily debunked claims. The president has offered no evidence for his claim that the election is being stolen, and none has been found.
Voting concluded when the polls closed Tuesday night. State election officials accept and count mail ballots only if they arrived by Election Day, or if they were postmarked by Election Day and arrived in the following days (the grace period varies by state).
UPDATE: On the evening of Nov. 5, Trump made a statement from the White House podium that continue to add to his falsehoods on the election. That fact check can be found by following this link.
The Pinocchio Test
Twitter has now marked 12 tweets by the president in two days as misleading. Yet without apparent embarrassment, he continues to lob baseless claims of vote fraud and electoral malfeasance. Eventually, all of the votes will be counted and certified and the election result will be clear. In the meantime, the president earns Four Pinocchios.
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