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Fact-checking Trump's false claims about Arizona and Florida elections

President Donald Trump has made several false claims about the ballot-counting processes in both Florida and...

Posted: Nov 13, 2018 2:40 AM
Updated: Nov 13, 2018 2:40 AM

President Donald Trump has made several false claims about the ballot-counting processes in both Florida and Arizona in recent days.

Trump alleged on Twitter that ballots were "infected" in Florida and that "electoral corruption" had taken place in Arizona. The comments were reminiscent of his false claims after the 2016 election that millions of illegal votes cast in California cost him the popular vote and that voters were bused into New Hampshire from Massachusetts.

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Trump's latest claims reflect a basic lack of understanding of those states' ordinary procedures for counting ballots.

And his proposed remedies -- determining results based only on the ballots counted on election night in Florida, and potentially holding a new election in Arizona -- lack any sort of legal or historical grounding.

Here's a look at what Trump is claiming and what the facts are in each state:

Florida

Trump is apparently complaining that a messy vote-counting process in Florida has cut into his allies' leads in the key presidential swing state.

Trump tweeted Monday morning: "The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!"

His complaint comes after a weekend in which the GOP's Senate candidate, Gov. Rick Scott, and its gubernatorial candidate, former Rep. Ron DeSantis, both saw their leads shrink as heavily Democratic Broward and Palm Beach counties finished counting ballots.

There have been problems in Florida, to be sure -- including Miami-Dade County's election board collecting a set of mysterious ballots in the Opa-locka mail facility after Democrats raised concern about the uncounted votes. Those 266 ballots are not being counted because Florida law requires all ballots sent by mail to arrive at the election facility by 7 p.m. on Election Day.

But Trump's claim of a "massively infected" process is not supported by the evidence.

A Florida judge on Monday denied the Scott campaign's request to impound the voting machines in Broward County. And state elections monitors reported that they'd seen no evidence of criminal activity there.

Scott, who is still Florida's governor, last week said he was asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the elections offices in Palm Beach and Broward counties. But officials at the agency said they were told by the Florida Department of State that there were no credible allegations of fraud.

There are also outstanding ballots from voters overseas -- including members of the military -- whose ballots have until November 16 to arrive in Florida.

More broadly, Trump's assertion that the race should be "called" for the candidates who led in the early tally on election night is a misstatement of the vote-counting process.

It's not unusual for vote-counting to continue for several days after an election. In fact, that's what happened in Broward County in 2014 and 2016, too.

News outlets "call" races -- or project their winners -- based on the results from the precincts and counties that have reported and how those results compare historically to the state's results. When a race isn't close, it's often immediately clear who will prevail. But that standard is unofficial.

State elections officials who oversee vote-counting and actually declare winners and losers don't "call" races on election night. That's a lengthy process that can take weeks of canvassing and verifying results. It usually wraps up weeks after the election was held.

Arizona

After Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema passed Republican Rep. Martha McSally as more votes were counted in Arizona's Senate race late last week, the President began complaining.

Trump tweeted Friday afternoon: "Just out — in Arizona, SIGNATURES DON'T MATCH. Electoral corruption - Call for a new Election? We must protect our Democracy!"

He also complained to reporters on Friday that in Arizona, "all of a sudden, out of the wilderness, they find a lot of votes" to put Sinema in the lead.

His comments reflect a lack of understanding of how Arizona counts its votes.

About three-fourths of the state's votes are cast by mail. And counting them isn't a simple matter of opening the envelopes and counting the votes.

Arizona law requires voters to sign and seal their envelopes, and for elections officials to match that signature with the one on the voter's registration form before even opening the envelope. That routinely takes several days and isn't finished on Election Day.

The controversy in Arizona was over officials in the heavily populated, Democratic-leaning Maricopa and Pima counties allowing voters several days to "cure" their ballots -- that is, to fix discrepancies such as forgetting to sign their envelopes. After suing, Republicans reached an agreement with county recorders last week to have the state's rural, Republican-leaning counties follow the same procedure.

Trump was swiftly rebuked Friday by Republicans in the state, including Gov. Doug Ducey, who had just won re-election.

"We often hear the phrase: Every vote matters. And the #AZSen race is proof. So let's get this right. All legally cast votes MUST be counted. Lawful votes in EVERY county in the state MUST be counted," Ducey tweeted hours after Trump.

"Let's follow the law, count the votes, prevent any cheating, and heed the will of the voters," Ducey added in a second tweet.

Outgoing Republican Sen. Jeff Flake also criticized Trump on Twitter. "There is no evidence of 'electoral corruption' in Arizona, Mr. President. Thousands of dedicated Arizonans work in a non-partisan fashion every election cycle to ensure that every vote is counted. We appreciate their service," he tweeted.

Arizona's Republican secretary of state, Michele Reagan, has repeatedly tweeted links to a blog post in which she explained why the state's vote-counting procedure moves slowly.

"Arizona takes elections seriously -- from the poll workers to the county elections officials, and the Secretary of State's office and everybody is working diligently to tabulate all of the election results in a manner that Arizonans can be proud of and, most importantly, trust the results," she wrote.

McSally's camp is also not complaining. The lengthy vote-counting process in Arizona is a reality with which McSally is deeply familiar: Her 2012 and 2014 House races were among the nation's closest. She wasn't declared a winner in 2014 until mid-December.

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