US election officials nationwide find no evidence of fraud

Poll workers tabulate absentee ballots in Detroit, Michigan, on Nov 3, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Election officials in dozens of states representing both political parties said that there was no evidence that fraud or other irregularities played a role in the outcome of the presidential race, amounting to a forceful rebuke of President Donald Trump's portrait of a fraudulent election.

Over the last several days, the president, members of his administration, congressional Republicans and right wing allies have put forth the false claim that the election was stolen from Trump and have refused to accept results that showed Joe Biden as the winner.

But top election officials across the country said in interviews and statements that the process had been a remarkable success despite record turnout and the complications of a dangerous pandemic.

"There's a great human capacity for inventing things that aren't true about elections," said Mr Frank LaRose, a Republican who serves as Ohio's secretary of state. "The conspiracy theories and rumours and all those things run rampant. For some reason, elections breed that type of mythology."

Mr Steve Simon, a Democrat who is Minnesota's secretary of state, said: "I don't know of a single case where someone argued that a vote counted when it shouldn't have or didn't count when it should. There was no fraud."

"Kansas did not experience any widespread, systematic issues with voter fraud, intimidation, irregularities or voting problems," a spokeswoman for Scott Schwab, the Republican secretary of state in Kansas, said in an e-mail on Tuesday (Nov 10). "We are very pleased with how the election has gone up to this point."

The New York Times contacted the offices of the top election officials in every state on Monday and Tuesday to ask whether they suspected or had evidence of illegal voting. Officials in 45 states responded directly to The Times. For four of the remaining states, The Times spoke to other statewide officials or found public comments from secretaries of state; none reported any major voting issues.

Statewide officials in Texas did not respond to repeated inquiries. But a spokeswoman for the top elections official in Harris County, the largest county in Texas with a population greater than many states, said that there were only a few minor issues and that "we had a very seamless election."

On Tuesday, the Republican lieutenant governor in Texas, Dan Patrick, announced a US$1 million (S$1.35 million) fund to reward reports of voter fraud.

Some states described small problems common to all elections, which they said they were addressing: a few instances of illegal or double voting, some technical glitches and some minor errors in math. Officials in all states are conducting their own review of the voting - a standard component of the certification process.

What emerged in The Times' reporting was how, beyond the president, Republicans in many states were engaged in a widespread effort to delegitimise the nation's voting system.

Some Republicans have even turned to lashing members of their own party who, in their eyes, did not show sufficient dedication to rooting out fraud. In Georgia, where Biden is leading, the two Republican senators from Georgia, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, both of whom are in a runoff to gain reelection, have called for the resignation of the Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger. "The secretary of state has failed to deliver honest and transparent elections," the senators said in a statement.

On Monday, the Trump campaign accelerated their legal efforts, filing a lawsuit in the seven Pennsylvania counties where the president lost that claimed mail voting created an unfair, "two-tiered" system during the election - though the system is also in place in counties the president won. The campaign also announced plans to file another suit in Michigan.

The president has kept up a barrage of Twitter posts with false claims about improprieties in Nevada and Pennsylvania, predicting he'd prevail in Georgia, where he is behind, and said Wisconsin "needs a little time statutorily," though he offered no explanation for what he meant.

Ms Nellie Gorbea, the Democratic secretary of state in Rhode Island, said the amount of attention on the election would make illegal voting extremely difficult. "It would be nearly impossible to do voter fraud in this election because of the number of people tuned in," she said.

Still, Mr Trump has been fixated on voter fraud since 2016, when he falsely claimed that vote stealing had cost him the popular vote, which he lost by roughly 3 million. In the election's aftermath, he formed a voting fraud commission that disbanded with no findings amid charges of secrecy, bias and overreach.

Mr Trump's attack on the election system this year has relied on either outright fabrication or gross exaggeration involving the sorts of small problems that typically come up in elections.

In Ohio, for instance, LaRose said that while it was not unusual to discover a handful of improprieties in a statewide election, systemic fraud has not happened.

"In the past, I've referred people to local prosecutors and the attorney general for noncitizens voting," he said. "It's like tens or dozens of people, not hundreds. There's no acceptable level of voter fraud and we take every one of those cases seriously."

The tension over voting has been most palpable in Georgia. The Trump campaign and the two Republican senators have complained about transparency, which Raffensperger, the secretary of state, called "laughable".

"We were literally putting releases of results up at a minimum hourly," he said in a statement. "I and my office have been holding daily or twice-daily briefings for the press to walk them through all the numbers. So that particular charge is laughable."

He added that while there were likely small instances of fraud, he did not expect it to be significant enough to affect the outcome.

The absence of any major findings of fraud or irregularities, and the willingness of even Republican election officials to attest to smooth operations, have also undercut Trump's legal efforts.

In Michigan, the Trump campaign has sued, saying that their poll watchers were not given access to properly observe ballot counting in Detroit. But election officials in the city deny that, saying there were dozens of poll watchers from both campaigns inside the main counting centre there.

Last week, a judge denied a Trump campaign bid to halt counting based on complaints about observers, dismissing key evidence as "vague" and as "hearsay." The accusations of fraud from the president and his allies were noticeably absent from states where Trump and his fellow Republicans did well.

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