Judges across the country are rejecting arguments made by President Donald Trump’s campaign and Republican leaders claiming voter fraud.
For months, Trump’s unsubstantiated claims have formed the centerpiece of his assault on the integrity of the election. At one point he claimed in May that “there is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent.” But a series of blistering decisions from federal judges appointed by presidents of both parties has made clear that such arguments are often baseless and difficult, if not impossible, to back up in court.
The weeks leading up to Election Day have seen a series of setbacks for the Trump-led effort, including in several swing states that could play significant roles in deciding the next president.
District Judge Dana Christensen referred to the Trump campaign’s argument as “fiction” in a case challenging Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s decision to allow counties to use an all-mail system for voting this year.
“This case requires the Court to separate fact from fiction,” Christensen wrote in late September, adding, “Central to some of the (Trump campaign’s) claims is the contention that the upcoming election, both nationally and in Montana, will fall prey to widespread voter fraud. The evidence suggests, however, that this allegation, specifically in Montana, is a fiction.”
Christensen ruled against the Trump campaign and Republican leaders, rejecting the effort to block the new directive.
Speaking specifically about mail-in ballots, Christensen said they “present no significant risk of fraud.”
A federal judge blocked an order from Ohio’s secretary of state that aimed to limit the number of ballot drop boxes to one per county and claimed this was an effort to reduce voter fraud.
In his ruling, Judge Dan Polster said the order by Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose put a burden on counties with more people, creating a “very serious and looming problem” that could jeopardize the right to vote.
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Regarding claims of increased voter fraud, Polster said that “no evidence was introduced at the hearing to support the conclusory reference to fraud in the brief.”
The judge denied LaRose’s request to stay his decision, writing, “As stated above, we are in the middle of the worst pandemic in a century coupled with reasonable concern over the ability of the U.S. Postal Service to handle what will undoubtedly be the largest number of absentee voters in Ohio’s history. The Secretary has not advanced any legitimate reason to prohibit a county board of elections from utilizing off-side drop boxes and/or off-site delivery of ballots to staff.”
The Trump campaign and Republican groups jointly asked the court to overturn a state order allowing the election to be conducted primarily through voting by mail. District Judge Michael A. Shipp rejected the request in early October, writing that it’s “foreseeable that an injunction on the eve of the by-mail election could prompt such confusion or distrust that voters opt to avoid the mail system altogether and cast provisional ballots in person.”
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Shipp added that the outcome would “needlessly force voters and poll workers into close proximity,” and “defeat the purpose of the vote-by-mail election.”
A federal judge in Nevada dismissed a lawsuit by Trump’s campaign claiming increased mail-in ballots would lead to voter fraud as a “speculative and ‘generalized grievance.’ ”
District Judge James C. Mahan said the campaign lacked standing because it failed to identify a specific harm that Republican voters would incur.
“Ultimately, as plaintiffs concede, they hold ‘policy disagreements’ with proponents of [the law],” wrote Mahan. “Although they purport to allege constitutional harms that go beyond these policy disagreements, and this juncture, plaintiffs’ allegations remain just that.”
The campaign alleged without evidence that a new law ordering mail-in ballots to be sent to all registered voters for the upcoming election, regardless of whether they had been requested, would lead to increased voter fraud and would disproportionately affect GOP voters by confusing them, creating a disincentive to vote.
In response to the Louisiana Republican secretary of state’s effort to undo absentee and early voting expansions from the primary, District Judge Shelly D. Dick wrote that he didn’t have “a scintilla of evidence of fraud associated with voting by mail in Louisiana.”
“Strikingly absent is even a hint of fraud in the July and August primaries, where expanded mail voting was available to voters with COVID-19 comorbidities, caretakers, and others,” Dick wrote in September.
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Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin had argued that tightening the rules would “prevent” voter fraud.
Dick blocked the request and ordered 10 days of early voting for the upcoming election.
Trump’s federal lawsuit against Pennsylvania over the use of drop boxes, poll watching and the security of voting processes was shut down by a US district judge in August.
“The problem with this theory of harm is that it is speculative, and thus Plaintiffs’ injury is not ‘concrete’ – a critical element to have standing in federal court,” wrote Judge Nicholas Ranjan, who was appointed by Trump. “While Plaintiffs may not need to prove actual voter fraud, they must at least prove that such fraud is ‘certainly impending.’ They haven’t met that burden. At most, they have pieced together a sequence of uncertain assumptions.”
A federal judge last month rejected the Cook County Republican Party’s claim that the state’s expanded vote-by-mail program would result in fraud.
The Cook County Republican Party alleged in its lawsuit that the measure, signed into law by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, was “a partisan voting scheme that is designed to harvest Democratic ballots, dilute Republican ballots, and, if the election still doesn’t turn out the way he wants it, to generate enough Democratic ballots after election day to sway the result,” the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
Judge Robert M. Dow rejected the claim, writing in his opinion that it amounted to “legislative policy disagreements and unsupported speculation about potential criminal conduct.”
“The Election Code does not permit just anyone to return the voter’s ballot,” Dow wrote. “And it certainly does not permit anyone to systematically collect but fail to submit Republican ballots.”