In the month since the election, President Donald Trump has grasped for seemingly any theory to explain why he lost to Joe Biden, no matter how outlandish — dead people voted, poll watchers were illegally removed, foreign countries influenced the tabulation of the votes! Yet as his explanations have changed, they remain consistently untrue.
Despite repeated denials of any wrongdoing from federal and state officials, there’s evidence Trump’s onslaught is having an effect. A recent Pew survey found only 35% of Trump voters say they are “very confident” their vote was counted accurately, much lower than the 82% of Biden voters.
Trump had help from an array of allies in his efforts to discredit the election results — Rudy Giuliani has helmed a legal team that’s consistently peddled baseless nonsense, and consistently lost in court. Most Republicans remain silent though some prominent ones have actively helped spread misinformation.
While he was relatively low-key over the Thanksgiving holiday, Trump has since returned with a vengeance. Nearly half of Trump’s tweets since last Friday have been flagged by the platform as false or misleading.
On Sunday, Trump gave his first one-on-one interview since losing his bid for reelection and on Tuesday, posted a 46-minute video statement to Facebook. Both were riddled with misinformation about the election.
Here’s a look at the common theories that make up Trump’s case for widespread fraud and corruption in the election.
Votes reported after midnight on Election Day were one of the earliest narratives Trump and his campaign pushed as proof of fraud in the election. Initially, this was framed as votes from mail-in ballots which were “illegally” received after Election Day, but eventually Trump and his allies began characterizing them as “dumps” of votes that were suspicious because the results were tallied and reported after the election.
One example of Trump and his legal team have repeatedly cited is Michigan, where Trump claimed a dump of about 150,000 votes came early in the morning after Election Day. Trump also implied these ballots were fraudulent because they skewed predominantly for Biden.
Facts First: There’s nothing inherently suspicious about votes being counted and reported after Election Day. In fact, 22 states, plus the District of Columbia, count all ballots that are postmarked on or before November 3, even if they are received after Election Day. This year in particular, many states expected delays reporting votes given the large increase in mail-in ballots and different states’ rules about the timeline for counting them.
Votes from mail-in ballots, the majority of which favored Democrats, were often reported later on Election Day and afterwards because they couldn’t be counted ahead of time in many states, including Michigan and Pennsylvania. Additionally, it’s possible Trump himself is partially to blame for the large amount of mail-in votes going to Biden since he spent most of the year claiming the practice was unsafe and ripe for fraud.
It’s also misleading for Trump to reference the spike of votes in Michigan as an example of voter fraud. While such a spike was reported, state election officials had clarified weeks before Trump tweeted that it was the result of a clerical error which was fixed soon after it was identified.
From Election Day on, Trump has repeatedly claimed Republican poll watchers were banned from counting locations or otherwise prevented from observing the count and denied the access they legally deserved. Specifically, Trump and his campaign have said observers in several cities were too far away to see anything, implying there was something going on that Democrats in these cities did not want Republicans to see.
Many of these attacks have been focused on swing states like Pennsylvania, where Giuliani even argued the treatment of poll watchers rendered the count illegitimate.
Facts First: There have been no reports of systematic irregularities with poll watchers anywhere in the US. There is no evidence supporting the President’s claims that GOP poll watchers were shut out of the process.
In Pennsylvania in particular, a Trump campaign lawyer admitted in court that “a non-zero number” of the campaign’s observers were in the ballot counting room. And in response to Trump campaign complaints that watchers were not allowed close enough to actually observe the count, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice decided that the Philadelphia County board of elections complied with the law in how it allowed observers access to the canvassing process.
You can read more about what happened with poll watchers in other states here.
Dominion and glitches
The President and his allies have baselessly attacked election technology company, Dominion Voting Systems, which supplies software to many local governments.
Among the many falsehoods are that software “glitches” deleted votes cast for Trump or “switched” them to count as votes for Biden, which Trump began tweeting about shortly after the major networks called the election for Biden.
Later in the month, members of the Trump legal team suggested Dominion had foreign ties and implied foreign powers could have influenced the results tallied by the company’s software, a theory which Trump echoed in his first one-on-one interview since the election and in the video statement posted to social media.
A statement issued the week after the election from a joint group of election officials, including federal employees working in the Trump administration and for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, declared, “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”
While one Georgia county experienced delays reporting its results due to apparent problems with the company’s systems, other isolated issues that were allegedly connected to Dominion were actually caused by human error.
Christopher Krebs, formerly the Director of CISA and the country’s top cybersecurity official who Trump fired shortly after Election Day, also pushed back on allegations of a corrupted election, saying in an interview with “60 Minutes” that claims of machines manipulating the vote count were “nonsense.” He added, “There is no foreign power that is flipping votes.”
Even Attorney General William Barr, who prior to the election echoed Trump’s claims that mail-in voting wasn’t secure, said the Justice Department has not seen any evidence of fraud on a scale that could have altered the outcome of the election. Referring to allegations against Dominion and other voting software used in this election, Barr told the Associated Press, “There’s been one assertion that would be systemic fraud and that would be the claim that machines were programmed essentially to skew the election results. And the DHS and DOJ have looked into that, and so far, we haven’t seen anything to substantiate that.”
Trump and his allies have also claimed thousands and thousands of dead people were on states’ voter rolls across the country and that their identities were fraudulently used to submit mail-in ballots in a handful of swing states.
It started with Michigan, barely two days after the election, when falsehoods about dead people casting ballots in the state began spreading through videos posted to social media, some of which were shared by the President’s son, Donald Trump Jr.
The following week, the Trump campaign claimed that the identities of four deceased people were used to vote in Georgia. This theory took off after Fox News host Tucker Carlson repeated it on his show.
The President also made similar efforts regarding Pennsylvania, alleging tens of thousands of dead people were on the commonwealth’s voter roll.
Facts First: State election officials have debunked these claims time and time again. In some cases, the voters the campaign claimed were dead were not, and in others, the voter’s name was the same as or similar to a deceased individual.
In Michigan, one of the supposed pieces of evidence was a list that circulated on Twitter, allegedly containing names, birth dates, and zip codes for registered voters in Michigan. A CNN analysis of 50 names on the list found that 37 were indeed dead and had not voted, according to Michigan’s Voter Information database. Five people out of the 50 had voted — and they are all still alive, according to public records accessed by CNN. The remaining eight are also alive but didn’t vote. The sample CNN reviewed is not representative, but the trend was clear — not a single one of the names examined was of a dead person voting.
In Georgia, county officials told CNN that ballots for two of the named individuals were not cast in 2020. In one of the cases, a county election official clarified that the widow of the deceased man had cast her ballot using her husband’s name with “Mrs.” as the prefix which resulted in Carlson apologizing on air for spreading the false claim on his show. The third individual answered the door when a CNN reporter showed up; she shared a name with the deceased but was born on a different day in the same month and year.
And in Pennsylvania, Laura Humphrey, a spokesperson for Pennsylvania’s Secretary of State told CNN, “There is no factual basis” for the campaign’s claims, noting that “[a]llegations of fraud and illegal activity have been repeatedly debunked and dismissed by the courts.”
Trump has also singled out Georgia, a state which he won in 2016 and lost in 2020 by 12,670 votes, according to CNN’s count.
Trump has repeatedly claimed the election results in Georgia were rigged. However, when the state embarked on a recount, Trump dismissed it as fake because it didn’t include signature verification, leading him and his allies to call for a specific signature audit of the absentee ballot envelopes in Georgia.
Facts First: It’s misleading for Trump to suggest voters’ signatures on ballots were not verified in Georgia and that a signature audit might somehow uncover the kind of fraud Trump is alleging.
While it’s true that the state’s recount process does not involve matching signatures, voters’ signatures were verified twice before the ballots were included in the count in the first place — as Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, has explained.
And even if a signature on an envelope was flagged during an audit, it would be impossible to trace it to a specific ballot in order to remove their vote accordingly. Trump and company would have to rely on the hope that a judge would throw out ALL absentee ballots in a given county with a high rate of signature match issues, which state officials have said is unlikely.
More votes than people
After the presidential election results in Wayne County, Michigan’s largest county and home to Detroit, were certified despite efforts from Republicans to block it, the President took to Twitter. Perpetuating dubious claims of voting irregularities in Detroit, Trump tweeted that there were “more votes than people.
Facts First: Trump’s claims are misleading, at best.
Trump’s insistence that there are “more votes than people” likely refers to the precincts that are out of balance, which means the number of voters recorded didn’t match the number of ballots cast in certain places. However, former and current state officials told CNN these imbalances are often clerical errors which are addressed as part of the canvassing process and not indicative of widespread fraud.
Taken at face value, it’s also not true that there were more votes than people in several parts of Michigan. In fact, 878,102 people voted for president in Wayne County which has a population of over 1.7 million. And in Detroit, 250,138 votes were cast this election and there were 670,031 people in the city as of 2019, according to the US Census Bureau.