Trump is still lying about winning Pa. in 2020. He’s still wrong.

Gun Rights

As former President Donald Trump seeks a return office, he continues to promote the many-times debunked lie that he won the 2020 election in Pennsylvania.

“I love Pennsylvania. We ran twice. We won Pennsylvania twice,” Trump told the crowd in Harrisburg earlier this month at his first Pennsylvania campaign stop of the year at a National Rifle Association conference.

Trump narrowly won Pennsylvania in 2016 and then lost the state by less than 1%, or 80,000 votes, to Biden in 2020.

The former president’s insistence on clinging to the falsehood that he won the state has helped keep conspiracy theories alive more than three years after Biden’s victory was certified.

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“He’s doing this nationally, and his allies are doing this nationally, and we’re seeing this in many places across the country,” said Kathy Boockvar, who served as Pennsylvania’s secretary of state during the 2020 election. “And this is a deliberate effort to destroy people’s faith in democracy, in the electoral system.”

» READ MORE: Trump makes his first 2024 stop in Pa., where supporters have given him $9 million toward his presidential run

Why does Donald Trump say he won Pennsylvania and why is it wrong?

Election misinformation surrounding the 2020 election has been rampant, but a major claim Trump made surrounding the election in Pennsylvania was that the state counted more votes than its number of registered voters.

After repeatedly bringing up the allegation to Justice Department officials who told him it was false, Trump still made the claim that Pennsylvania counted 205,000 more votes than voters on Jan. 6, 2021. This number came from a faulty analysis by Pennsylvania activist Heather Honey that misused voter roll data.

“This is a mathematical impossibility unless you want to say it’s a total fraud,” Trump said on the day of the Capitol riot.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of State, there were 9,090,962 voters registered for the 2020 general election, and 6,979,668 ballots cast, showing a voter turnout shy of 77%.

In another debunked claim, Trump tweeted in November 2020 that more than 1 million mail-in votes “were created out of thin air” in Pennsylvania. That allegation came from improperly contrasting numbers from the primaries and general election.

Another debunked theory came from the right-wing Project Veritas, which falsely accused a postmaster in Erie of backdating mail-in ballots. The group this month admitted the claim was not true after settling a lawsuit.

How do we know the Pennsylvania election in 2020 was secure?

While a lot of the 2020 conspiracy theories target mail-in voting, the method in Pennsylvania is not new, and used to be largely utilized by Republican voters before the party told them otherwise, said Boockvar, the former secretary of state who served from 2019 to 2021.

Voters only receive a mail-in ballot if they apply for it, and the envelopes have a barcode on them unique to the already-approved voter, she said.

“If a ballot is returned that doesn’t have a barcode or if a ballot is returned that has a barcode that’s connected to somebody who didn’t ask for it, that ballot is not going to get counted,” she said.

Bipartisan election officials undergo training and the voting systems are required to meet the highest levels of security, she said, which were reestablished in 2018 and had to be updated by the 2020 election.

“There are checks and balances, and reconciliations and audits in Pennsylvania and across the country,” said Boockvar, who now advises on election security through her consulting firm Athena Strategies.

She said that on top of the typical election audits, “risk-limited audits” were piloted in Pa. in 2020 to review a sample of thousands of ballots, including every type.

Litigation challenging the election results have failed in state and federal courts, as well as in the U.S. Supreme Court, and additional recounts and audits since the 2020 election have also showed up dry.

“Every single review of every single county in the Commonwealth has come back within a very small difference, if any, of the results reported back in 2020,” said Boockvar.

Even though Trump and his allies pushed lies about election integrity on a large scale, they didn’t provide evidence in court that any votes in Pennsylvania were cast illegally. Instead, their legal efforts were focused on disqualifying votes that were found to be legitimately cast.

“Calling an election unfair does not make it so,” Judge Stephanos Bibas, a Trump appointee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, said in November 2020. “Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”

» READ MORE: Fact-checking false claims about Pennsylvania’s presidential election by Trump and his allies

How can election officials restore trust?

Montgomery County Commissioner Neil Makhija, an election lawyer who chairs the county’s election board, said that while there has been no “genuine evidence” of widespread fraud in any modern-day elections in the state, social media has helped misinformation spread in echo chambers.

“When people no longer know what to believe, we have a crisis in our democracy, and it may only get worse with the use of A.I. bots that are trained to disseminate disinformation,” Makhija said in a statement.

It doesn’t help that a lot of people don’t know how elections actually work.

“As elections officials and leaders we must prepare to educate voters on the facts — which is that our elections are safe, secure, and verified after election,” Makhija said.

Boockvar said that election experts can be better at reaching people where they are, such as through members of their own community, in language they understand.

“We need to be raising the base level of information that people in this country have about elections,” she said. “We need to be doing it in simple clear repeatable terms so that people can go and have these conversations with their own community.”

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