NOVEMBER 17, 2020
The very last day that President Trump will be able to pretend he won a second term in office will be Dec. 11. That’s when California has to certify its election results, formalizing President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the state and giving him, at long last, the official imprimatur as victor of the election he won two weeks ago. Until then, Trump and his allies can pretend that something else might shake free, denying Biden his 306 electoral-vote advantage.
Or, more accurately: Until then, Trump and his allies will apparently continue to try to shake something free, however increasingly ridiculous or unlikely the prospect seems to be.
There are three tracks along which that effort is progressing.
One is legal, with Trump’s attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani now leading a dwindling set of lawsuits directed at overturning election results — an effort that has so far proved as effective as Zanzibar’s effort to repel the British navy in 1896 and which seems unlikely to become any more fruitful. (An attorney added to Trump’s team in Pennsylvania has, in the past, admitted as much.)
Another is political. Trump’s allies are putting significant pressure on Georgia’s secretary of state, for example, hoping that he’ll prove more loyal to his party than his state. The Washington Post reported Monday that Trump’s closest Senate ally, Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), had asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to figure out how to reject a number of absentee ballots, potentially tipping the state toward Trump. Graham denied that he was suggesting anything nefarious, though Raffensperger — and the staff who apparently joined him on the call — seem to have viewed it that way.
Asked when he would recognize Biden’s win, Graham said either when the vote is certified or when Trump concedes, so either Dec. 11 or, apparently, never. Graham also told reporters Tuesday that he had made similar calls to other secretaries of state in places where Trump was beaten. (Arizona’s secretary of state denied having spoken with Graham.) He wasn’t doing so on behalf of Trump, Graham claimed, but because he was worried about “election integrity.”
That is the third and loudest track on which the Trump effort is progressing, this rhetorical insistence that something untoward occurred in the voting earlier in the month. Trump and his zombie campaign apparatus continue to be focused on alleging rampant voter fraud, just as they were before any votes were cast. The campaign may be laying off staff, but its campaign fundraising apparatus is still hard at work, sending out dozens of emails each day aimed at persuading former donors to again pony up to combat this purported threat to the election — although the money raised continues to go first to various political committees, not legal ones.
We cannot emphasize directly or frequently enough one central point: There is no evidence of any systemic fraud in the 2020 election. There is barely evidence of even minor fraudulent incidents. ABC News contacted state election boards to inquire about incidents of fraud. The network’s Arielle Mitropoulos and Will McDuffie learned about a few dozen in a handful of states.
There are apparently eight allegations under investigation in Idaho. One in Maine was caught before the ballot was counted. North Carolina has 33 complaints, one of which might involve voter impersonation. Nebraska and Pennsylvania identified one each. (Pennsylvania’s is probably an incident from October, which was also caught before a vote was cast.)
For scale, at least 155 million votes were cast this year.
Despite the utter lack of any systemic efforts to commit fraud, the Trump campaign keeps insisting that fraud was a problem. It has to, of course: The fraud claims necessarily undergird its legal and political strategies. Without allegations of rampant fraud, there’s no political will to pressure people such as Raffensperger and no real reason to argue for courts to overturn election results. Trump began lying about the threat of fraud well before Election Day to create precisely the atmosphere that the campaign is now leveraging.
The fraud allegations being made by the Trump campaign generally fall into three categories: They aren’t fraud, they’ve been debunked or they aren’t significant enough to throw any election result into doubt.
Into that first category fall things such as the hundreds of sworn affidavits the campaign has obtained from supporters. These affidavits generally make random allegations about how the counting of votes proceeded, applying a novice’s eye to a complicated effort. (In response to one set of affidavits, the city of Detroit pointed out that “[m]ost of the objections raised in the submitted affidavits are grounded in an extraordinary failure to understand how elections function.”)
The claims made in the affidavits are generally of the form “this struck me as odd” or “this might have made fraud possible.” They are not “we observed actual fraud.” It’s the equivalent of Trump’s incessant harping on random ballot-adjacent incidents before the election as proof that mail-in voting was suspect: A letter carrier dumping a load of mail that includes ballots is not proof that fraud occurred any more than is an amateur election observer watching someone repeatedly try to feed ballots into a malfunctioning scanner. It’s political pareidolism, seeing chicanery in everyday occurrences.
Trump’s team has tried to allege more concrete examples of fraud. For example, its rapid-response Twitter account has repeatedly elevated what it claims are incidents of votes being cast in the names of dead people. The campaign website has multiple pages up, making many of the same allegations about votes in Pennsylvania and Georgia.
“Someone used the identity of James Blalock of Covington, Georgia to cast a ballot in last week’s election,” one entry notes, “even though Blalock died in 2006.”
It’s not clear where these allegations are coming from, though it’s likely a rough comparison between voter rolls and lists of deceased individuals. What is clear, though, is that the allegations aren’t vetted before being publicized.
A local Georgia television station did vet them, after the Blalock allegation made its way onto Fox News. Turns out that the person using the identity of James Blalock was his wife, Agnes Blalock, who uses the legal name Mrs. James Blalock. Fox News’s Tucker Carlson admitted his mistake on-air. The allegation nonetheless remains on the Trump campaign website.
It’s been the Trump campaign’s consistent strategy to allege wrongdoing and leave it to others to disprove their claims. (The website specifically says that these are allegations that “should be investigated,” something it didn’t bother to do.) It has repeatedly used the same tactic in Nevada, where the campaign now suggests without evidence that a significant number of votes are at risk of being thrown out because of fraud — despite there being no risk of a number of presidential votes being thrown out or proof that there was any significant fraud at play. (Officials are looking at six instances of apparent double-voting but have not identified those as fraudulent.)
Let’s say for the sake of argument, though, that every allegation of dead people voting being made by the Trump campaign in Pennsylvania and Georgia is accurate, including the Blalock one and another proved false by the perfectly named Georgia station 11Alive.
In total, the campaign would have proved that 0.00004 percent of votes in Pennsylvania and 0.00008 percent of ballots in Georgia were cast illegally. This would neither be fraud significant enough to overturn the results nor fraud robust enough to suggest any systemic effort to throw the race.
Trump’s campaign has bet that simply mentioning isolated allegations will be enough to maintain the momentum of people donating to its efforts and keep Republican elected officials from refusing to admit the reality of Biden’s win. So far, that bet appears to be paying off. But it doesn’t change the reality of the situation, which is that the only thing that has been shown in the weeks since Election Day is that Biden secured enough electoral votes to be the next president and that the Trump team’s fervent efforts to undercut that victory have not yielded any successes.
In the weeks between now and Dec. 11, it’s unlikely that this dynamic will change.