It's becoming increasingly clear that President Donald Trump is terrified of losing the election as his attempts to sway voters become more and more desperate. Part of Trump's strategy has been to spread misinformation, conspiracy theories, and outright lies in an attempt to break down public trust in the democratic process. And if he can't win, he says it'll be because the election is rigged — one of his most terrifying claims.
Between viral videos of Trump encouraging people to vote twice and Eric Trump falsely claiming that Democrats are blowing COVID-19 out of proportion to game the election, the internet, in particular, has been a cesspool of false information. So Trump is attacking Silicon Valley, too: When Twitter announced a new initiative to combat “false or misleading information intended to undermine public confidence in an election or other civic process,” including Trump's tweets, the president responded by accusing the company of “stifling free speech” and of trying to interfere with the 2020 presidential election.
The number of lies out there is so dizzying, sometimes it's hard to keep up. Ahead, we’ve fact-checked some of Trump’s biggest falsehoods and conspiracy theories.
Voter fraud is rampant and widespread.
“MAIL-IN VOTING WILL LEAD TO MASSIVE FRAUD AND ABUSE,” Trump tweeted in May. “WE CAN NEVER LET THIS TRAGEDY BEFALL OUR NATION.” False. Study after study has found that voter fraud is incredibly rare, and that many allegations of fraud actually turn out to be administrative mistakes. A study conducted by the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) found that across 14.6 million votes cast by mail in the 2016 and 2018 general elections, instances of potential fraud only amounted to 0.0025%.
As much as Trump might rail against mail-in voting and attempt to defund the U.S. Postal Service, there is widespread support for vote by mail. According to the Pew Research Center, 70% of people support allowing anyone to vote by mail if they prefer. (There is a partisan divide, however — 87% of Democrats approve while only 49% of Republicans feel the same.) On top of that, studies show that voting by mail doesn't benefit either party exclusively — it just slightly increases turnout across the board.
You can vote twice.
Trump may tout himself as the “law and order” president, but during an interview on September 2, he blatantly suggested North Carolina residents test the integrity of the mail-in voting system and vote twice, once in person and once by mail. “Let them send it in and let them go vote, and if the [mail-in] system is as good as they say it is then obviously they won’t be able to vote,” Trump told WECT-TV in Wilmington.
But no, you can't vote twice — our president just doesn't understand laws. If you purposely vote twice, you could face felony charges, fines, and jail time depending on the state you live in. At least 28 states classify voting twice as a felony, according to The New York Times. Several other states consider it an infraction or misdemeanor. Even in states without specific legal language prohibiting voting twice, it is still illegal because of federal laws that set penalties at a fine up to $10,000 and prison sentence of up to five years. Many states already have established checks in place to prevent people from doing this.
Democrats are trying to steal the election.
On the first day of the Republican National Convention, Trump falsely claimed that Democrats were attempting to steal the election. How? By using COVID-19 as an excuse to expand mail-in voting. There is, of course, simply no basis for this. By expanding mail-in voting — which, as we mentioned, doesn't exclusively benefit either party — Democrats are simply trying to make the process safer. Because, you know, there's still a deadly pandemic going on.
While Trump himself has done a lot to instill fear and mistrust in the minds of voters, there is also a steady stream of misinformation coming from Trump loyalists and groups on social media. These viral posts have increased over the last several months. On April 3, Terrence K. Williams, an actor whom Trump has praised in the past, told his nearly 3 million Facebook followers that Democrats plan to light ballots on fire or throw them in the trash. “If you mail in your vote, your vote will be in Barack Obama’s fireplace,” said Williams. Okay.
According to an in-depth study conducted by ProPublica and global misinformation nonprofit First Draft, some of Facebook’s most popular posts about voting are false claims and conspiracy theories about stolen elections. These posts frequently come from Trump and prominent conservative outlets. The study found that “stolen elections” were among a few election-related terms that have nearly tripled in use since early April when Trump began attacking voting by mail.
You will get COVID-19 if you vote in person.
Confusingly, we're being told both that mail-in voting is rife with fraud and that voting in person is unsafe. Of course, the propaganda spreading on Facebook and other social media that you will get COVID-19 if you vote is just another form of voter suppression. To curb this and other forms of misinformation, Facebook has said it will remove all posts that tell people they will catch coronavirus if they vote. Should a post use the virus as a way to discourage people from voting in less obvious ways, the social networking site said it would attach a label and link to relevant information via its voter information center.
The lies and misinformation out there are rampant — but by fact-checking and only trusting verified sources, we can be prepared. Regarding staying safe while you vote, yes, voting by mail is a great option (just do it early!). But if you are comfortable voting in person and you wear a mask, bring hand sanitizer, and follow sensible social distancing precautions, the risk is low. Experts say that voting in person during the pandemic is about as safe as going to the grocery store. No matter how you choose to vote, make your voting plan now — and stick with it.