Trump urges supporters to 'go into the polls' and 'watch very closely' while questioning the integrity of the 2020 election

  • President Trump made a number of false and inflammatory statements about the election during the first 2020 presidential debate, including calling for his supporters to "carefully watch" at voting locations.
  • "I am urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that's what has to happen," Trump said. "I am urging them to do it."
  • Trump falsely claimed that poll watchers with his campaign are being wrongly barred from satellite in-person absentee voting sites in Philadelphia. 
  • In reality, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, there are currently no poll watchers affiliated with the Trump campaign certified to observe polls in the state of Pennsylvania. 
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President Donald Trump spread slew of misinformation about voting and elections during the first presidential debate against Democratic nominee Joe Biden on Tuesday night. When asked directly by moderator Chris Wallace, the president refused to commit to accepting the results of the 2020 election and called for his supporters to "carefully watch" voting locations.

Trump falsely claimed during the debate that voter fraud and election fraud with mail ballots is rampant and also sowed doubt about the integrity of in-person voting, as he did before and after the 2016 election. 

"Will you urge your supporters to stay calm during this extended period not to engage in civil unrest, and will you pledge tonight that you will not declare victory until the election has been independently certified?," Wallace asked the candidates. 

"I am urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully, because that's what has to happen," Trump said. "I am urging them to do it. As you know today, there was a big problem: In Philadelphia, they went in to watch, they're called poll watchers, it's a very safe, very nice thing. They were thrown out, they weren't allowed to watch. You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia, that's why."

He added: "I hope it's going to be a fair election, if it's a fair election, I'm 100% on board. But if I see tens of thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can't go along with that."  

 

Trump's claim that legitimate poll watchers in Philadelphia were being denied from observing at the polls already is false. Pennsylvania has not commenced traditional in-person voting yet statewide, but Philadelphia began allowing voters to pick up and fill out absentee ballots at satellite locations on Tuesday, a type of voting sometimes referred to as "in-person absentee." 

As the Philadelphia Inquirer's Jonathan Lai reported on Tuesday: "The Trump campaign has no poll watchers approved to work in Philadelphia at the moment. There are no actual polling places open in the city right now. And elections officials are following coronavirus safety regulations, such as those limiting the number of people indoors."

Al Schmidt, a Republican Philadelphia City Commissioner, told the Inquirer that poll watchers aren't approved to observe at such satellite voting locations because "We don't give someone a poll watcher certificate to … watch somebody fill out their ballot at their kitchen table." 

While voter and election fraud does occur, it's incredibly rare and affects a tiny percentage of all ballots cast, counter to the president's claims.

A database of voter and election fraud cases maintained by the conservative Heritage Foundation finds documented cases of fraud with mail ballots are more common than cases of in-person voter impersonation, ballot petition fraud, and registration fraud, but that overall rates of fraud are extremely low. 

Heritage's database identified 193 criminal convictions, civil penalties, diversions or other official findings for fraudulent use of mail ballots between 2000 and 2020, a time period during which approximately 250 million mail ballots were cast. That puts the rate of mail ballots resulting in criminal convictions at 0.0006% and the rate of mail ballots resulting in any kind of official action at 0.00007%. 

Rates of in-person voter fraud, commonly known as in-person voter impersonation, are even more rare, with Heritage's database identifying just 13 cases of voter impersonation over the past several decades. 

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