Trump is falsely claiming the election is being stolen, when in reality legal votes are just being counted

  • President Donald Trump has falsely claimed the election is being stolen, when in reality votes are just being counted.
  • The unprecedented number of mail-in ballots in 2020 guaranteed the election would be complicated and that it would take more time than usual for votes to be counted.
  • Counting votes is very different than stealing votes, which Trump has suggested is happening as Joe Biden has been declared the winner in key battleground states.
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As votes were still being counted across the US early on Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump falsely claimed the election was being stolen. 

"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!" Trump said in a tweet that was flagged by Twitter for its misleading nature. 

In a subsequent tweet, which was also flagged as misleading, Trump suggested his early leads in key battleground states were "magically" disappearing as "surprise ballot dumps were counted." 

None of that is true and there's no great mystery as to why it's taken longer for vote tallies in an array of states this year. There were no "surprise" ballot dumps. Votes are not being stolen — they're just still being counted. There is no evidence of a conspiracy to invalidate Republican ballots or disenfranchise Trump supporters.  

The 2020 election was always going to be slower to report results in comparison to past presidential contests due to the unprecedented number of mail-in ballots, which take more time to process and count than those cast in-person.

If Trump is wondering why a higher proportion of mail-in ballots appear to be shifting contests in the favor of Democrats as officials count them, perhaps he should consider the fact he spent a huge portion of 2020 baselessly claiming voting by mail would lead to widespread fraud.

Moreover, polling in recent months consistently showed far more Democrats than Republicans planned to vote by mail. And publicly available data showed Democrats were requesting absentee ballots at a much higher rate than Republicans this year in battleground states like Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. 

Pennsylvania, where mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day are accepted up until November 6, had received more than 2.5 million mail-in and absentee ballots as of Monday, per Politico. Overall, 1.6 million of these ballots were from registered Democrats, compared to 586,000 from Republicans.

There are also different laws in every state regarding when ballots can be processed and counted, which can impact which results are publicly reported first. Some states allow officials to begin processing and counting mail-in ballots ahead of Election Day. But in crucial battleground states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, election officials were limited by law in their capacity to count mail-in ballots prior to November 3. 

Huge numbers of ballots still needed to be counted in these states well into Wednesday. This was expected. Officials in these states repeatedly warned that sheer volume of mail-in ballots would complicate tallies, and could skew early results in favor of one candidate or another. This is why experts urged voters against jumping to conclusions based on initial results. 

In past elections, TV networks were often able to declare a winner based on available results on election night. But the massive number of mail-in ballots in 2020 made such a scenario highly improbable. In 2016, roughly 33 million votes were cast by mail, representing approximately one-third of voters. Comparatively, it's estimated roughly 65 million people voted by mail-in or absentee ballots in 2020. 

But even when networks have been able to project or declare a winner in the past, full results have never been available on the day of the election. Local officials have days or even weeks — deadlines vary from state to state — to canvass and certify election results. States technically have until December 8, which is known as the "safe-harbor" deadline, to fully certify results.

And despite Trump's suggestion that votes should no longer be counted after polls close, most states have laws allowing absentee ballots to be counted after Election Day — including from US service members overseas. 

In other words, what's happening right now is normal.

As Utah's Republican lieutenant governor, Spencer Cox, put it in a tweet on Wednesday morning: "Just a little reminder that there is nothing nefarious about it taking a few days to count all legitimate votes."

And it's notable that Trump is decrying the process as former Vice President Joe Biden has been declared the winner in multiple key battleground states, including Michigan and Wisconsin, which the president won in 2016. Biden is also ahead of Trump in the electoral vote count so far, and appears to have a clearer path to victory. With that said, the election is still too early to call and, whether Trump likes it or not, votes still have to be counted.

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