Common Questions and Answers About the 2020 Election Results
Was There Any Evidence of Widespread Voter Fraud?
No. To start, credible sources have drafted factcheck reports and studies on this issue. These are included above in the “List of Resources” section.
For the most part, the Trump legal team did not even dare bring fraud cases in court, for lack of evidence. Raising unproven assertions and then claiming they represent a widespread problem is a familiar playbook for those who want to dispute elections or take away access to voting.
Even Trump-appointed officials, such as William Barr, then the U.S. Attorney General, and the Acting U.S. Attorney in Northern Georgia, who was appointed as part of a Trump effort to more aggressively investigate allegations in that state, ended up concluding that there were no election irregularities sufficient to change the outcome. President Trump famously fired Christopher Krebs, the who headed the U.S. Government’s office monitoring the security of the election, when he concluded that, “The 2020 election was the most secure in U.S. history.”
Was the Fact that Biden Overtook Trump in Key States in the Days following the Election the Result of a Nefarious Plot? Or When States Counted Ballots?
A common refrain in pro-Trump circles is how Trump appeared to be leading key vote counts on election night (when he wrongfully claimed victory), but by the following morning, Biden was gaining and pulling ahead in close states. This is sometimes described by Trump supporters as a “planned ballot dump.”
However, the reality is simply that it took more time to finish tallies of absentee ballots, as was totally expected, legal and widely reported ahead of time, and that some states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — following procedures insisted on by their Republican-led state legislatures — prohibited the processing of absentee ballots when received ahead of Nov. 3, 2020.
As a result, these ballots had to be processed in the days following Election Day.
Meanwhile, in-person Election Day votes that were counted on election night favored Trump in key places (e.g. Pennsylvania and Georgia), as he had attempted to scare Republicans out of casting absentee ballots and urged his supporters to go to the polls in person.
Thus, Trump’s election night false “victory” claim was made in the full knowledge that more Trump votes than Biden votes had been counted in key places at that point, and that more Biden votes would be counted in the days ahead.
Did Voting Machines Switch Thousands and Thousands of Votes?
No. Election infrastructure experts have found no evidence that voting machines were compromised or that they changed or deleted votes. A remarkable full statewide hand count of ballots in Georgia, confirming that there was no significant difference between voting machine totals and paper ballots, did the most to throw cold water on this conspiracy.
Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic have filed defamation suits, for false claims that their voting technology was rigged against Trump. Conservative media outlets, such as Newsmax, have already issued retractions and have rebutted guests on air, such as MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who continue to promote these falsehoods.
The Washington Post has an informative article about Lou Dobbs' departure from Fox in the aftermath of false voting machine claims.
The Washington Post also has an article on how Republican operative, Russel J. Ramsland, and his company Allied Security Operations Group manufactured many of the most insidiously fraudulent claims about issues with voting machines in the 2020 presidential election. The article describes how Ramsland's claims predated the actual results of the presidential election, revealing more about his distrust of voting machines than issues with the election itself.
During the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference, a woman asked about voting machines that switched thousands and thousands of votes. Republican lawyer Charlie Spies tried to push back.
"I may get booed off the stage for this, but I have to say that's simply not true," he said. "There is just zero evidence that's true."
What About the Alleged Claim That an Italian Defense Contractor Conspired With CIA Officials to Use Satellite Technology to Switch Votes from Trump to Biden to Swing the Election’s Result?
This claim, also known as “Italygate” overwhelmingly appears to be unfounded. According to an article from The Washington Post published on June 19, two firms led by Virginia business executive Michele Roosevelt Edwards have promoted this outlandish theory. USAerospace Partners, one of Edwards’ companies, pulled from fantastical claims circulated by a conservative Italian media pundit, a Virginia based commentator on intelligence matters and others, to write a letter about Italygate. In December 2020, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows emailed acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen the letter, which is how this idea went from being speculation by those in the fringes to something being circulated by officials in the highest level of government.
Nevertheless, the conservative Italian media pundit whose article initiated this conspiracy theory has since concluded it was false, telling the Post it was “fake news, a conspiracy theory, [a] poisoned chalice.” A U.S. Justice Department official similarly opined to acting attorney general Rosen that the claim seemed unfounded.
Michele Roosevelt Edwards, who promoted the conspiracy theory, has a history of spreading falsehoods. For example, on Nov. 3, 2020, Edwards did an interview with a television crew from Iceland at the historic North Wales Farm, a 22-bedroom mansion in Warrenton, Virginia, where she told the crew, falsely, that the $30 million estate belonged to her. However, North Wales was then — and still is now — owned by a company formed by retired financier David B. Ford, who died in September 2020. When the Post contacted Ford’s widow, she was surprised to find out that Edwards had ever been in the mansion because Edwards’ firm was not hired to sell off the property following Ford’s death.
What About the Alleged Grand Schemes of Voter Fraud Compiled by Former Trump Advisor Peter Navarro?
Peter Navarro has published a three-volume series of reports that purport to show that Trump really won the election. Reporters have published rebuttals and counterarguments to the initial Navarro report, as well as rebuttals to his subsequent compilations.
The “firehose of falsehood" — the intentional deluge of made-up clickbait meant to sow distrust and disorient people — has produced a sizable amount of dubious claims, and Navarro’s work is no different. The initial report, for example, alleges a laundry list of outright voter fraud, which would constitute huge crimes if true.
However, these allegations appear imaginary. Here’s an example: in his report, Navarro alleges, “destruction of legally cast real ballots” in Arizona. He cites one legal brief filed by Trump conspiracy theorist Sidney Powell in Arizona.
This case was dismissed on Dec. 9, 2020 (before the publication of the Navarro report). The judge wrote of the brief that its, “allegations are sorely wanting of relevant or reliable evidence” and “[p]laintiffs failed to provide the Court with factual support for their extraordinary claims."
This fate has been routine for these types of grand allegations.
Have Audits Validated the Election's Outcome?
Counting was done transparently across the country, with poll watchers from both major parties witnessing tallies, and with recounts and hand counts of ballots in closely contested states. Importantly, audits have disproved allegations, including those involving signature match. Georgia, under huge pressure from Trump to find "fraud" in mail-in voting, conducted an unprecedented audit of absentee ballot signatures in Cobb County — the "first of its kind in Georgia" — and affirmed that there were no fraudulent ballots or signatures.
Similarly, on April 28, Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, announced that her office had found zero "evidentiary support" for claims of fraud or bias following a rigorous audit of the state's elections. CLC and the democracy community have long been advocates for both better signature match policies and risk-limiting audits.
Who Are the Cyber Ninjas, and What Did The Group’s Final Report Find About the Results of the 2020 Presidential Election in Maricopa County, Arizona?
- Topline Takeaway: Half a year after Trump’s presidential defeat, Republican state Senators in Arizona launched their own highly questionable “election audit” in Maricopa County, claiming that they were not seeking to overturn the election results in Arizona (that is not legally possible now) but rather to “inform” future legislative actions. They brought in the company Cyber Ninjas to complete this audit, an entity that had previously never completed an election audit before and is headed by someone who has publicly supported Trump’s national effort to cast doubt on the 2020 election results. The Cyber Ninjas’ final report concluded that there were no substantial differences between the Cyber Ninjas tally and the government tally, and it confirmed that more voters cast their votes in favor of President Biden than former President Trump in Maricopa County in the 2020 election — the final Cyber Ninjas tally even showed a slightly higher margin of victory for Biden than the original tally.
Maricopa County, Arizona conducted a hand recount of ballots and accredited forensic auditors completed reviews that found no evidence of widespread fraud. However, half a year after Trump’s presidential defeat, Republican state Senators launched their own highly questionable “election audit” in the county. They claimed that they were not seeking to overturn the election results in Arizona (that is not legally possible now) but rather to “inform” future legislative actions. They hired a company — Cyber Ninjas — to do the audit: This was an entity that had never done an election audit previously, and which is headed by someone who has publicly supported Trump’s national effort to cast doubt on the 2020 election results. The group did not disclose where their funding came from. They took control of the machines and ballots and their methods of doing a recount were not transparent and were questioned. As Hayden Johnson, legal counsel, voting rights at Campaign Legal Center (CLC) said in an interview on April 27, it seemed that Cyber Ninjas was “trying to manufacture reasons to make voting harder for Arizona’s voters in the future, not to look at the 2020 election.”
In the end, the Cyber Ninjas’ final report found that President Biden received more votes than former President Trump in the 2020 presidential election and that there were “no substantial differences” between the Cyber Ninjas' tally of votes and the official count by Maricopa County election officials, according to an article from The New York Times published on September 30. The report also failed to find evidence that the results were rigged or fraudulent. However, as a Talking Points Memo article from October 2 highlights, the bulk of the report did not focus on the findings but rather on “anomalies” that were quickly debunked by election experts. Matt Shuham, who dug into the Cyber Ninjas report, wrote, “the report spent most of its time on just-asking-questions ‘anomalies’ in the election — shifting the goalposts yet again and providing the foundation for the next round of attacks on democracy.”
What Were Some Problems with the Cyber Ninjas’ Audit, and How Did Local Election Officials and Election Experts Respond to the Audit?
- Topline Takeaway: The Cyber Ninjas’ audit was plagued by a lack of transparency, a lack of consistent ballot review processes, and misunderstandings or misrepresentations of election administration. Local election officials and election experts responded in real-time and published prebuttals to the Cyber Ninjas’ audit to highlight the many issues with the audit.
On May 5, Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs sent a letter highlighting a series of problems that she said observers from her office had witnessed with the audit. This included ballots being left unattended on counting tables and open, unlocked laptop computers being left to sit around without supervision. Additionally, on May 5, Pamela Karlan, the principal deputy assistant attorney general with the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, stated in a letter to the Arizona state Senate president that the department's review, "raises concerns" and asked the Arizona Senate to provide information to ensure federal laws were not being violated. The same letter stated that it seemed that ballots were, “not being adequately safeguarded by contractors at an insecure facility, and are at risk of being lost, stolen, altered, compromised or destroyed.”
In the May 16 installment of her blog, historian Heather Cox Richardson wrote, “Cheney is not the only Republican who is turning on the former president and his loyalists. On May 15, Trump posted a statement claiming that ‘the entire Database of Maricopa County in Arizona’ — where the bizarre ‘audit’ is underway — 'has been DELETED!’ The statement goes on to make sweeping claims about ‘this unbelievable Election crime,’ and so on.
But, in real time, the Republican recorder of Maricopa County wrote on Twitter in response to Trump’s statement: ‘Wow. this is unhinged,’ Stephen Richer said. ‘I’m literally looking at our voter registration database on my other screen. Right now.’ He went on: ‘We can’t indulge these insane lies any longer. As a party. As a state. As a country. This is as readily falsifiable as 2+2=5. If we don’t call this out….’
And Maricopa County did call it out. In a remarkable Twitter thread, the Maricopa County official account destroyed the effort by the private company Cyber Ninjas to recount the 2020 votes in that county. ‘The 2020 elections were run w/ integrity, the results certified by the county & state were accurate, & the 2 independent audits conducted by the County are the true final word on the subject,’ the account said. ‘We know auditing. The Senate Cyber Ninja audit is not a real audit.’ The account went on to list all the many ways in which this audit is simply a propaganda effort to shore up the Big Lie that the election was stolen.”
In the May 18 installment of her blog, Heather Cox-Richardson discussed a scathing letter that Maricopa County Board of Supervisors sent to the president of the Arizona Senate, Karen Fann, on May 17.
Specifically, Heather Cox-Richardson wrote, "Yesterday, the Maricopa County, Arizona, Board of Supervisors sent a spectacular letter to Karen Fann, the president of the Arizona Senate that authorized the 'audit' of the ballots cast in Maricopa County by the private company Cyber Ninjas. The 14-page letter tore apart the entire project, pointing out that the Cyber Ninjas are utterly ignorant of election procedures.
It is a devastating take down, saying, for example: 'You have rented out the once good name of the Arizona State Senate to grifters and con-artists, who are fundraising hard-earned money from our fellow citizens even as your contractors parade around the Coliseum, hunting for bamboo and something they call ‘kinematic artifacts’ while shining purple lights for effect.' It concludes by begging Fann 'to recognize the obvious truth: your ‘auditors’ are in way over their heads. They do not have the experience necessary to conduct an audit of an election. They do not know the laws, nor the procedures, nor the best practices. It is inevitable that they will arrive at questionable conclusions. It is time to end this. For the good of the Senate, for the good of the Country and for the good of the Democratic institutions that define us as Americans.'”
When briefing the Arizona State Senate on July 15, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, Doug Logan, made claims that, “that were immediately called into question by the county and independent experts,” according to a CNN article published on July 18. First, Logan said that there were over seventy thousand mail-in ballots that had no record of having been sent. While Logan admitted that this could be a “clerical error” instead of fraud, county election officials argue that in-person early voting could explain the gap. Garret Archer, an election analyst at a local Pheonix news station and a former official in the Arizona secretary of state's office, found that more than 99% of the ballots could be accounted for in the list of ballots submitted in person. Furthermore, Logan also claimed that Maricopa County stopped verifying voters’ signatures during the election process, when the county in fact did not. Stephen Richer, the Republican county recorder for Maricopa County, responded by tweeting from the county recorder’s official Twitter account, "At no point during the 2020 election cycle did Maricopa County modify the rigorous signature verification requirements. Any suggestion to the contrary is categorically false."
In anticipation of the final Maricopa County audit by Cyber Ninjas, Hobbs published a prebuttal on August 19, which noted, “security lapses, issues surrounding the chain of custody of both ballots and tabulation equipment, and evidentiary integrity problems throughout the entire exercise.” Any of these alone would have been enough to make the audit results unreliable, but taken together, Hobbs concludes that, “these failures renders this review meritless.”
Also, on August 19, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer published his prebuttal to the Cyber Ninjas’ audit, highlighting that this organization had “zero” experience doing election audits and that the audit could not be considered objective, impartial, or unbiased. Among other things, this was due to a tweet where Logan publicly alluded to the conclusion of the audit before even beginning the audit. Richer’s prebuttal also compared Maricopa County’s professionally run hand recount with the well-documented issues present throughout the Cyber Ninjas’ audit. For instance, the county’s recount required the people conducting the recount to come from several political parties and prohibited candidates on the ballot from being part of the process, whereas most of people participating in the Cyber Ninjas’ recount were from the same political party and some were even candidates who had been on the ballot themselves. In another example, the Cyber Ninjas’ audit allowed for the use of black and blue pens to mark used ballots, both of which are colors of pen that can be read by ballot machines instead of using red pen, which the county did in its audit because it can’t be read by ballot machines. Altogether, Richer’s prebuttal offers a comprehensive explanation of the issues with the Cyber Ninjas’ audit and sheds light on the procedures Maricopa County normally uses to complete recounts.
Election officials from out of state have also been quick to criticize any information that might come from the Cyber Ninjas’ audit. On June 22, former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson also published an independent report, which said that the process for the Cyber Ninjas’ recount, “…does not meet the standards of a proper election recount or audit.” Much like Hobb’s prebuttal, this report cited a lack of impartiality and a faulty ballot review process as outstanding problems.
But the Pre-election Crowds Show Trump Had Huge Support, So the Election Must Have Been Stolen?
The obvious answer is that crowds can indicate voter enthusiasm—but amid COVID-19, Trump conducted in-person rallies and Biden did not, and Election Day tells us who actually voted. What we know is that 2020 saw the highest number of voters in U.S. history, and the highest percentage of eligible voters turn out since 1900. It is clear that Trump, and his performance as president, resulted in highly motivated voters on both sides. The result was that Trump got 11 million more votes than he did in 2016 — but Biden exceeded Clinton’s 2016 total by more than 15 million and won the Electoral College.
A post-election report by the Trump campaign’s own polling team, which reviewed Trump’s vote totals in 2016 and 2020, found that a vital element in Trump’s loss was the switch in allegiance of a crucial number of Republican and Independent suburban voters unhappy with Trump. Even staunch Republican allies of Trump like Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin have said as much, acknowledging that Trump’s loss was because people didn’t cast their votes for him and emphasizing that there was nothing skewed about the election results.