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Fact check: Clarifying Trump’s 80 million ‘unsolicited’ ballots claim

With 54 days until the Nov. 3 presidential election, President Donald Trump said on Twitter ( here ) and Facebook ( here ) on Thursday that 80 million mail-in ballots were being sent to voters who had not requested them, calling the situation “unfair and a total fraud in the making.” While certain states are automatically sending ballots to their voters for this election, in many others, these still need to be requested.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at MBS International Airport, in Freeland, Michigan, U.S., September 10, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Voting by mail has a long history of reliability in the United States, serving as the primary method of voting in Colorado, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Hawaii, which automatically send registered voters mail-in ballots. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, California, Nevada, New Jersey, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. have introduced the same procedure for the 2020 vote ( here ) .

Benjamin Hovland, commissioner of the independent, bipartisan U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC,  here , www.eac.gov/about-the-useac ) echoed to Reuters via phone that “in more states than ever, election authorities will automatically send a ballot to each registered voter.” 

According to Reuters’ calculations, there are an estimated 44.2 million registered voters, or about half the number mentioned by President Trump, in the 10 states and jurisdictions automatically sending out ballots for the Nov. 3 election.

Reuters found this number by adding up the latest available voter registration statistics for Colorado ( here ); Hawaii, ( here ); Oregon ( here ); Utah ( here ); Washington ( here ); California ( here ); Washington, D.C ( here ); Nevada ( here ); New Jersey ( here ); and Vermont ( here ). 

“On the states where these ballots are sent automatically, those were state-legislated decisions to make those policies,” Commissioner Hovland said, adding that “those states have implemented security measures on their respective mail-in processes.”

For the remaining states not sending out proactive ballots, Hovland noted “votes still require an affirmative request from the voter.” The millions of voters in these states would have to actively solicit or request a ballot.

It is possible that Trump’s 80 million unsolicited ballot claim stemmed from an Aug. 14 analysis from the New York Times ( here ), which stated that experts predict “roughly 80 million mail ballots will flood election offices this fall.”  

The president first mentioned this figure during his Labor Day press conference on Sept. 7, referring to “the issuance of 80 million ballots, unrequested” as “the dirtiest fight of all”  ( here ).

Linking the high volume of “unsolicited” mail ballots to voter fraud, he said, “People are going to get ballots; they’re going to say, ‘What am I doing?’ And then they’re going to harvest. They’re going to do all the things.”

The claim feeds into a narrative echoed by President Trump that mail-in voting, expected to nearly double due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will increase voter fraud ( here ).  

After weeks of repeatedly raising concerns about mail-in voting, Trump on Aug. 4 called Florida’s election system “Safe and Secure, Tried and True” and urged voters in the Republican state to vote by any means, including by mail ( here).  

Experts say that election fraud is very rare in the United States, where nearly one in four voters cast a mail-in or absentee ballot in 2016 (here).  

There are multiple layers of security in place for mail-in ballots, also known as “absentee” ballots, including the Electronic Registration Information Center ( www.ericstates.org ) and adherence to the National Voter Registration Act’s list of maintenance procedures ( here , here). 

The National Conference of State Legislatures provides information on home voting, including a section on security features in place here .  

Measures to counter voter fraud include hand-marked paper ballots, signature verification, examining and processing ballots ahead of election day to allow for more verification time, up-to-date address information, security cameras during storage, and many more (see Security Features of Voting by Absentee/Mailed Ballots section here bit.ly/33vUvBA ).

Further information on security measures to ensure ballot integrity can be found here .  

Commissioner Hovland told Reuters these sort of unfounded claims “ignore the repeated calls of elections professionals, both Democrat and Republican, that say this is a safe, normal process with procedures in place to ensure the process upholds the integrity of an election.”

The Reuters Fact Check team has previously debunked several viral claims linking the use of mail-in ballots to voter fraud: here , here , and here . 

VERDICT

False. 80 million “unsolicited” mail-in ballots will not be sent to voters ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Ten states and jurisdictions are proactively sending out ballots, some for the first time due to the coronavirus pandemic, for an approximately 44.2 million registered voters in total.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work here . 

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