I’m USA TODAY editor-in-chief Nicole Carroll, and this is The Backstory, insights into our biggest stories of the week. If you’d like to get The Backstory in your inbox every week, sign up here.
As President Donald Trump continues to contest the election results, one of the most common questions I get is, “Are you investigating his allegations of voter fraud?” The short answer is yes, we will always look into credible accusations of serious wrongdoing.
The issue here is that many of these allegations are unfounded, overblown or have little or unreliable evidence.
“Reporters on my team have reviewed about 10 lawsuits alleging problems with voting and counting in several states,” said enterprise editor Steve Myers. “What many people may not realize is how far the lawsuits fall short of what people claim.”
For example, Myers said, in Nevada the Trump campaign announced it and the state Republican Party were preparing to file a lawsuit alleging that up to 10,000 people who no longer lived in Nevada had voted there.
“When the suit was filed, it contained just one vague reference to ‘over 3,000 instances of ineligible individuals casting ballots,’ and it cited no evidence,” he said. The head of elections in Clark County said he would look into the allegation but that out-of-state voters are common, and often include members of the military and college students. Judges declined to stop vote counting.
The lack of evidence appears to be why judges have tossed these cases so quickly – in Georgia, it took just one day.
Vote counters process absentee votes in Detroit on Nov. 4, the day after the election. (Photo: Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press)
The Trump campaign went to court the day after the election, alleging Chatham County had improperly intermingled ineligible ballots with valid ones, our journalists reported. A judge dismissed the case after the county elections head said he reviewed the 53 ballots in question and found they had been received before the deadline.
Investigative editor Matt Doig points out that voting irregularities happen every election but, as our reporting has shown, are extremely rare and don’t amount to negating a national election.
“A poll worker will accidentally mark the book to show that John Smith Sr. voted instead of John Smith Jr., and the Sr. is dead,” he said. “Somebody who lives in Michigan will cast an absentee ballot there, and then vote in person at the precinct near his vacation house in Arizona. Someone will cast a vote for a spouse who died between the time the ballot was mailed and the election deadline.”
The conservative Heritage Foundation, which keeps records of voting fraud, found about 1,200 cases dating back to the 1980s. The Heritage database does not include any examples of a concerted effort to use absentee ballot fraud to influence a major election.
We have substantial news operations in each of the closely contested swing states: Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona. These editors are relentless watchdogs on the voting process.
George Stanley is the editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. His team investigated concerns about voting in Wisconsin and explained the story behind each one.
One issue raised was clerks filling in the addresses of witnesses on absentee ballot envelopes. Before Election Day, clerks contacted voters if they identified problems with the envelopes so they could fix them – assistance that is legally allowed.
“The state Elections Commission told clerks they could add the witness’s address if they were able to determine what it was,” the Journal Sentinel story said. “They were able to find this information in many cases by looking at voter registration records, talking to the voter or talking to the witness.”
Clerks in Milwaukee used red ink to show they filled in the address. Allowing clerks to verify and fill in witness addresses was a practice that was first challenged in 2016. “That year,” the story said, “Republicans on the commission put forward the guidance to allow clerks to fill in the missing information. The guidance was approved unanimously after the commission consulted with the office of then-Attorney General Brad Schimel, a Republican.”
Stanley said his team has aimed to shine a light on every question. “There’s a tremendous amount of disinformation out there,” he said, “and I think this is one of the great public services we can provide at this time.”
We’ve done this same level of investigating claims nationwide. Here are just some of the issues we’ve examined, and what we found.
Claim: Ballots were found in drainage ditches in Pennsylvania and that’s evidence of election fraud by Democrats.
Fact check: There were no ballots found in a ditch. There were nine military ballots incorrectly discarded in a dumpster — seven of which were cast for Trump — but the incident was found to be an error by a contractor. The Pennsylvania secretary of state stated that the situation was not intentional fraud.
Claim: Thousands of voters in Michigan cast a ballot under the names of deceased people.”
Fact check: The claim that 14,000 dead people in Wayne County, Michigan, voted in the 2020 election is false. The list has been investigated and it was found that some individuals on the list were either still alive, or not living in Michigan. Other examples cited were date of birth errors. Ballots cast by dead people in Michigan are rejected and there is no evidence of fraud.
Claim: Ballots in Phoenix marked with Sharpies were disqualified.
Fact check: There is no evidence that tabulating machines in Arizona cannot read ballots filled out with a Sharpie. The Maricopa County Elections Department confirmed that Sharpies are preferred for filling out ballots. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs also confirmed that ballots marked with Sharpie pens would be counted.
Claim: Video shows ballots for Trump being burned in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Fact check: Virginia Beach officials confirmed that the ballots are actually sample ballots and are not real.
Possible concerns and abuses should be thoroughly investigated and litigated if necessary. Voting fraud isn’t just bad for the losing party, it’s poison for democracy, damaging everyone.
There will be claims of fraud or irregularities in every election, but in this case, not enough to overcome Joe Biden’s lead over Trump in the swing states in question, election experts say.
Journalists aren’t deciding this, the courts are – where there are legal challenges. Journalists are reporting that.
To be sure: We aren’t perfect, and we admit our mistakes. But to be clear: We stand with all Americans, no matter who they voted for, in our desire to root out fraud and report the truth. We hold the powerful accountable, no matter who is in power.
A friend of mine, Doug Beischel of Phoenix, (vigorously) raised questions on Facebook about whether and how journalists are investigating election fraud. The exchange between my family and friends got a bit tense. I explained much of what I have here. His response:
“I hope you guys keep forwarding information to the public as to the perceived injustices done and the Court decisions on them,” he said. “What we all want is a fair and just election. I can live with a Biden victory. In fact the act of having a fair just election is actually more important than the outcome.
“I hope whomever wins streamlines the process and makes is so there is never any doubt that the elections are demonstrating the will of the voters in our Republic!”
I was thrilled that he led the discussion to finding common ground.
Here’s hoping our country can as well.
Nicole Carroll is the editor-in-chief of USA TODAY. Reach her at EIC@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter here. Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free experience or electronic newspaper replica here.
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