Fact-checking Trump’s claims on voting by mail and drop boxes

By: - September 1, 2020 1:00 am

President Donald Trump. Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images.

Sitting in his office above downtown Columbus, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose took to social media to set the record straight.

He played a video clip that falsely implied Ohio mail-in ballots would be at risk of getting tossed aside by partisan postal workers.

“Absolutely not true,” LaRose said, delving into a string of fact checks.

Ohio does not identify party affiliation on the outside of an absentee (mail-in) ballot envelope. 

“Ohioans need to know when you cast your ballot absentee, you’re casting a private ballot. Nobody else knows how you’re voting, and nobody else knows your party affiliation. Ohioans can be confident casting their ballot absentee,” LaRose said.

“This kind of nonsense,” he concluded, pointing back at his laptop, “is absolute B.S. and Ohioans shouldn’t fall for it.”

LaRose earned social media kudos for his take down of the misinformation video; Jessica Huseman, a reporter who covers election integrity issues for ProPublica, complimented LaRose for doing “a solid job debunking insidious rumors.”

The proliferation of election misinformation has sowed doubt among some Americans into the integrity of the vote count for this fall. Nearly 1-in-5 Ohioans have “little confidence” their vote will be counted in the 2020 General Election, according to a poll organized by the journalism project Your Voice Ohio and the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.

That poll found that supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden feel more comfortable about election integrity than those backing President Donald Trump for reelection.

That may be a product of the president’s statements and tweets throughout 2020 which have called into question the integrity of voting by mail and the use of drop boxes.

The Ohio Secretary of State office is encouraging Ohioans to report election misinformation by email to [email protected].

Here is a fact check of some of the president’s claims, and how they contradict with how elections in Ohio and elsewhere are held:

Claim: “Absentee Ballots are fine because you have to go through a precise process to get your voting privilege. Not so with Mail-Ins. Rigged Election!!! 20% fraudulent ballots?”

Fact check: Throughout 2020, Trump has tried to draw a distinction between absentee ballots and mail-in ballots.

In many states, including Ohio, that’s a distinction without a difference.

Ohio is among the states that allows no-excuse absentee voting. That means voters can request an absentee ballot for any reason.

Such absentee voting can take various forms:

  • Requesting a ballot and mailing it in to one’s county board of elections office
  • Requesting a ballot and dropping it off at the board of elections drop box site
  • Voting early (in person) at the board of elections office

Whether voting by mail or in person, there are safeguards in place to ensure a voter’s identification in receiving a ballot and having it be counted. One example is a signature match: the signature on an absentee request form and the eventual ballot itself must line up with the voter’s signature already on file with their board of elections office.

Claim: “So now the Democrats are using Mail Drop Boxes, which are a voter security disaster. Among other things, they make it possible for a person to vote multiple times. Also, who controls them, are they placed in Republican or Democrat areas? They are not Covid sanitized. A big fraud!”

Fact check: Trump is referring to drop boxes which allow voters to submit their completed absentee ballot rather than having to mail them in. 

The box locations are not political in nature as Trump is suggesting. In Ohio, all 88 counties have one box located at their board of elections office

There is nothing about drop boxes which would provide a voter the chance to illegally cast multiple ballots. In order to use a drop box, that would mean an Ohio voter already successfully went through the process of requesting and receiving a blank absentee ballot.

A voter cannot request multiple ballots for themself and most importantly their board of elections office wouldn’t count multiple ballots from them regardless.

As for the claim these boxes are “not Covid sanitized,” voter drop boxes are actually considered to be a safe alternative to other voting means. Each box has an open slot to drop the ballot into, meaning a person does not have to touch anything in order to cast their ballot.

Claim: “Some states use “drop boxes” for the collection of Universal Mail-In Ballots. So who is going to “collect” the Ballots, and what might be done to them prior to tabulation? A Rigged Election? So bad for our Country. Only Absentee Ballots acceptable!”

Fact check: As with the above tweet, the president is wrongly questioning the safety and integrity of voter drop boxes. 

A directive from LaRose to county boards of election offices requires the drop boxes “must be monitored 24/7.” The boxes are locked, and there is a specific procedure for how votes should be collected.

According to LaRose’s directive, “at least one Republican and one Democratic member of the board or board staff must together retrieve the drop box’s contents at least once daily.”

Trump is suggesting the votes could be meddled with between being dropped off by voters and eventually tabulated on Election Day.

Ohio, like other states, has specific guidelines in place to prevent that. Absentee ballots received prior to Election Day are stored in a special room with a “dual-control lock system.” As described in the Election Official Manual, a Democrat in the office has one key or lock combination and a Republican holds the other. Access to the ballot storage requires the presence of both people to unlock the room.

A similar lock system is in place when storing other pieces of election equipment, such as voting machines.

Claim: “Mail-In Voting is already proving to be a catastrophic disaster. Even testing areas are way off. The Dems talk of foreign influence in voting, but they know that Mail-In Voting is an easy way for foreign countries to enter the race. Even beyond that, there’s no accurate count!”

Fact check: There is no evidence that mail-in voting makes the election process susceptible “for foreign countries to enter the race.”

Voting by mail, like casting a ballot at a polling place, requires someone to be a verified registered voter in their state. 

There are some states that send blank absentee ballots to all registered voters. In Ohio, there is an additional step: Absentee ballot request forms are sent to all registered voters, which must be returned in order to receive the blank ballot.

In each case, a voter’s status as a registered voter is what allows them to participate. A foreign citizen would not be able to receive a ballot to mail in.

As for the claim “there’s no accurate count” with mail-in voting, that is not true. Elections officials have a multi-step procedure for how to process absentee ballots, determine the voter’s eligibility and count them. There is no evidence the counting of these ballots are any less accurate than the counting of ballots cast in an Election Day polling place .

Claim: “The Democrats are demanding Mail-In Ballots because the enthusiasm meter for Slow Joe Biden is the lowest in recorded history, and they are concerned that very few people will turn out to vote. Instead, they will search & find people, then “harvest” & return Ballots. Not fair!”

States typically have rules in place for how absentee ballots can be collected, handled and returned. In California, for example, campaigns are in fact allowed to collect completed ballots and return them on behalf of voters, according to a Washington Post report about the practice. 

Trump has expressed fear this practice can lead to voter fraud. A voter’s submitted ballot through these means would still require the same eligibility review by elections officials that an individually submitted ballot would. As the Post reported, a ballot must be already completed and sealed before an outside person takes possession of it.

Ohio has stricter rules about who can handle someone else’s ballot. Only a “near relative” or postal worker can deliver a person’s ballot.

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Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan

Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.