Fact Checking Donald Trump’s WSJ Letter to the Editor

The former president made a number of false claims about the election results in Pennsylvania.

On October 27, the Wall Street Journal published a letter to the editor from Donald Trump, responding to “Pennsylvania’s 2020 Election.” In it, Trump maintains that the 2020 election was “rigged.” The former president recycled familiar—and previously debunked—voter fraud claims to make his case.

In total, Trump makes 20 allegations of voter fraud, but the basis for most of these claims are not immediately clear. 

First, Trump claims that in Pennsylvania “71,893 mail-in ballots were returned after Nov. 3, 2020, at 8 p.m.” He adds: “[N]one of these should have been counted according to the U.S. Constitution and the state Legislature, which didn’t approve this change.”

As we explained previously, Pennsylvania state law states that absentee ballots must be received “on or before eight o’clock p.m. the day of the primary or election.” However, in September 2020, the state Supreme Court ruled that ballots postmarked by 8 p.m. on Election Day, November 3, could still be counted through November 6. Republicans took issue with the ruling and the case ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that ballots received after Election Day would need to be segregated and would be counted separately. 

Trump cites an organization called “Audit the Vote PA,” as the source of his information. It’s unclear what Audit the Vote PA used as the original source of information for those vote totals. It’s worth noting that Audit the Vote PA has no experience assessing election integrity.

In other cases, “Audit the Vote PA” has relied on Douglas Frank as an authoritative voice on voter fraud. Frank has appeared in Mike Lindell’s many debunked documentaries, spreading baseless voter fraud claims. Frank was also an “expert” at Lindell’s failed “cyber forensic symposium” this past August, once again promoting false voter fraud allegations. 

One week after the 2020 election, Politico reported: “Pennsylvania’s chief election officer announced on Tuesday that around 10,000 ballots were received between the close of polls on Election Day and the evening of Nov. 6.” Furthermore, as we noted in an earlier fact check, due to legal challenges to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to extend the deadline to receive mail-in votes, “the 10,000 ballots were excluded from Pennsylvania’s certified vote tally.”

In his Wall Street Journal op-ed, Trump also claims: “Hundreds of thousands of votes were unlawfully counted in secret, in defiance of a court order, while Republican poll watchers were thrown out of buildings where voting took place.” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, however, courts “found that officials applied the observation rules evenly to both parties.” Not only were Republican poll watchers present to observe the ballot-counting process, there was also a livestream of Philadelphia’s counting process. Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar, a Democrat, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that “in Pennsylvania, every candidate and every political party is allowed to have an authorized representative in the room observing the process. And some jurisdictions, including Philly, are live streaming it.” Boockvar also called the ballot-counting process “very transparent.”

Later in the letter, Trump highlights his “lead” on election night saying that “[F]rom 2016 to 2020, during my term as president, Republicans out-registered Democrats 21 to 1. This translated to a 659,145-vote lead at 12:38 a.m. on election night, with ‘Trump’ up a full 15 points.” Trump’s election night lead and Biden’s eventual win weren’t suspicious, though, as Trump insinuates. 

As election experts noted, Joe Biden had an advantage over Trump when it came to early voting and mail-in ballots in the 2020 election, and because absentee ballots were counted later than in-person votes, it was not unusual for a Trump lead in Pennsylvania, for example, to then switch to Biden, as more absentee ballots were counted. 

Trump also claimed: “120,000 excess voters are not yet accounted for by the Pennsylvania Department of State—far more votes than voters!” This is a claim that has been circulating for a while in different forms. For example, Trump and Doug Mastriano, Republican state senator from Pennsylvania, have both previously promoted the false claim that Pennsylvania had more mail-in ballots recorded than were requested. As we noted, though, Trump and Mastriano were citing data from the 2020 primary election, not the general election, and in reality, according to Open Data Pennsylvania, there were 1,823,148 mail ballots requested, with 79.97 percent returned in the 2020 primary election.

In this case, it’s not entirely clear where Trump gets “120,000” from, but there weren’t “far more votes than voters.” In Pennsylvania, there were more than 9 million registered voters and close to 7 million votes cast, with 3,458,229 for Biden and 3,377,674 for Trump, according to data from the Pennsylvania Department of State

Next, Trump mentions that there were “17,000 mail-in ballots sent to addresses outside of Pennsylvania.” Again, the basis for the claim is unclear, but here’s what we do know about allegations of out of state ballots. In December, Jesse Morgan, who claims to work for the U.S. Postal Service as a subcontractor truck driver, claimed that he drove thousands of fraudulent mail-in ballots across state lines, from Bethpage, New York, to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. 

We’ve previously fact checked this claim; there is no evidence to suggest that Morgan’s allegations were true. In fact, it’s not unusual for absentee ballots to be mailed out of state. As we noted, Craig Lehman, commissioner for the County of Lancaster told The Dispatch Fact Check via email that “receiving absentee applications in which the registered PA voter requests their ballot to be mailed out of state, while it is not the norm, it is something that we see for every primary and general election. Examples of the more common circumstances are: students who are attending college out of state, or even out of the country and PA residents who are on an extended visit in another state either visiting or caring for a loved one. We also see PA residents who may be in another state on a lengthy vacation which is long enough for them to receive mail at the address.”

We also noted that on a news segment hosted by Martha MacCallum, Fox News anchor Eric Shawn challenged Morgan’s alleged voter fraud, saying: “The claim that completed ballots were driven from Long Island, to Pennsylvania, and disappeared sometime in October, election officials tell me that just cannot happen. Every ballot, they say, is matched to a voter and then they double check it and they confirm. They say you just can’t simply get hundreds of thousands of fake ballots or signed ballots somehow into the system.”

Trump also alleged that “25,000 ballots were requested from nursing homes at the exact same time.” This is the same claim that he promoted on January 6. Once again, though, there appears to be no basis for the claim. The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office addressed the baseless claim in a statement, which described Trump’s January 6 speech as “President Trump’s attacks on Pennsylvania’s free and fair election and the events of January 6.” The statement characterized Trump’s claim that “25,000 ballots were requested from nursing homes” as “wholly made up,” saying that there was “no evidence at all to support this claim.”

Lastly, Trump claimed that “Attorney General Bill Barr ordered former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain to stand down and not investigate election irregularities.” In a letter to Trump dated June 9, 2021, McSwain blamed Barr for not permitting McSwain to publicize “possible election irregularities.” 

Barr disputed McSwain’s accusations: “I never told him not to investigate anything.” In fact, Politico noted that six days after the election Barr authorized U.S. attorneys to investigate voter fraud allegations. In a memo obtained by Politico, Barr wrote:  “I authorize you to pursue substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities prior to the certification of elections in your jurisdictions.”