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Election officials directly contradict Trump on voting system fraud

Voters stood outside of Philadelphia City Hall to cast their early voting ballots at the satellite polling station in Philadelphia, Pa.
Voters stood outside of Philadelphia City Hall to cast their early voting ballots at the satellite polling station in Philadelphia, Pa.Mark Makela/Getty Images/file

Hours after President Trump repeated a baseless report that a voting machine system “deleted 2.7 million Trump votes nationwide,” he was directly contradicted by a group of federal, state and local election officials, who issued a statement Thursday declaring flatly that the election “was the most secure in American history” and that “there is no evidence” any voting systems were compromised.

The rebuke, in a statement by a coordinating council overseeing the voting systems used around the country, never mentioned Trump by name. But it amounted to a remarkable corrective to a wave of disinformation that Trump has been pushing across his Twitter feed.

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The statement was distributed by the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which is responsible for helping states secure the voting process. Coming directly from one of Trump’s own Cabinet agencies, it further isolated the president in his false claims that widespread fraud cost him the election.

The statement also came as a previously unified Republican Party showed signs of cracking on the question of whether to keep backing the president.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, who endorsed Trump’s reelection, became the latest Republican official to say what Trump and his allies refuse to accept. The GOP governor acknowledged that President-elect Joe Biden’s lead is getting “bigger and bigger by the day” and Trump’s legal options are dissipating.

"Joe Biden is the president-elect, and I think like most Americans, we suspect he’ll be taking the oath of office in January,” Sununu said, insisting there was no legal fraud in his state, which Biden easily carried.

Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio said it was time to call Biden the “president-elect.” The Republican attorney general of Arizona said Trump would not end up winning his state, despite the president’s protestations.

Karl Rove, the architect of president George W. Bush’s presidency and an informal adviser to Trump, wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday that “closing out this election will be a hard but necessary step toward restoring some unity and political equilibrium.”

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He added that after Trump’s “days in court are over,the president should do his part to unite the country by leading a peaceful transition and letting grievances go.”

Meanwhile, Trump’s refusal to allow Biden and his transition staff access to government offices, secure communications, and classified briefings prompted growing warnings Thursday, including from Republicans, that keeping Biden in the dark potentially endangers the country.

On Capitol Hill, several Senate Republicans insisted that Biden should at least be given access to the president’s daily brief, the compendium of the nation’s most closely guarded intelligence secrets and assessments of threats like terrorist plots and cyberattack vulnerabilities. Their call amounted to an acknowledgment that Biden would be declared the victor in the election.

“I don’t think they need to know everything,” Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the Senate Republican leadership, said of Biden’s advisers. “I think they do need to know some things, and national security would be one of them.”

“President-elect Biden should be receiving intelligence briefings right now; that is really important,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, a member of the Intelligence Committee and one of the few Senate Republicans to publicly acknowledge Biden’s victory. “It’s probably the most important part of the transition.”

Biden will confront an array of complex dilemmas: bruised relationships with foreign allies, a weak economy and sluggish recovery, perhaps the most high-risk period yet of the coronavirus, and a need to distribute a vaccine to 330 million Americans.

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The president-elect’s team is concerned that it is being shut out of planning for the vaccine distribution, a huge undertaking that the incoming administration expects to inherit the moment Biden is sworn in. His advisers said they have not had access to the details of Warp Speed, the project that has vaccine distribution planning well underway, and understand little about its workings.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, said she believed the Trump administration should share vaccine distribution plans with Biden, ensuring that “as the president-elect is able to come in and bring with him a transition team, that there is that flow of information that we typically see when we have transitions.”

Across the country, election officials have said the vote came off smoothly, with no reports of systemic fraud in any state, no sign of foreign interference in the voting infrastructure and no hardware or software failures beyond the episodic glitches that happen in any election. President-elect Joe Biden’s lead in the popular vote has expanded to more than 5 million, and he remains on track to win a solid victory in the Electoral College.

The group that issued the statement was the Elections Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council, which includes top officials from the cybersecurity agency, the US Election Assistance Commission and secretaries of state and state election directors from around the country. The group also includes representatives from the voting machine industry, which has often been accused of being slow to admit to technological shortcomings and resistant to creating paper backups.

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“While we know there are many unfounded claims and opportunities for misinformation about the process of our elections, we can assure you we have the utmost confidence in the security and integrity of our elections, and you should, too,” the officials added in their statement. “When you have questions, turn to elections officials as trusted voices as they administer elections.”

In 2020, in part because of the vastly increased use of mail-in ballots, more than 92% of votes had some form of paper backup that can be used in audits or recounts.

The council was responsible only for the security of the actual election infrastructure — the voting machines, the scanners and the counting systems for ballots. So its statement did not encompass the full range of Trump’s accusations — rebutted by elections officials across the country — of other types of voting fraud, most notably that mail-in ballots were manipulated to give an advantage to Biden.

But Trump’s tweet Thursday morning, citing an unsubstantiated report from One America News Network, which has backed Trump’s claims without skepticism, suggested that machines made by Dominion Voting Systems systematically deleted 2.7 million votes. His post immediately generated a warning from Twitter.

The basis of Trump’s claim was an error made in a county in Michigan, which initially miscounted a vote total in Biden’s favor. It was a human error, and it was quickly caught and corrected.

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The Dominion software was used in only two of the five counties that had experienced Election Day hiccups in Michigan and Georgia. In every instance, there was a detailed explanation for what happened, most of it human error. In none of the cases did software affect the vote counts.

The council’s statement Thursday was prompted by repeated “baseless claims of voter fraud that none of us have seen any evidence of,” said one the federal officials who signed it, Benjamin Hovland, chair of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Hovland said that the group was aware of Trump’s tweet about the Dominion systems before it published its statement, but that it was only one of many statements that had disturbed the group for days.

“Because of this politically motivated rhetoric, these baseless accusations, you’re seeing harassment of election officials, you’re seeing threats toward elections officials — completely unacceptable,” he said. “We’ve seen these accusations time and time again. We’ve seen them by this president from the very start.”

“What you see happening right now,” Hovland added, “is playing right into the hands of our foreign adversaries who want to see us lose faith in our democracy.”

It was not the first time that government agencies have taken on Trump’s falsehoods. In July, the Food and Drug Administration warned against the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat the coronavirus after Trump had embraced its use. The president was angry, but the head of the agency has survived.

Many of the charges of fraud, illegal voting and software troubles have come from Trump and his sons.

Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, called for “total war” in Georgia over what he claims is election fraud. Eric Trump shared conspiracy theories that poll workers in Arizona gave Trump voters Sharpie pens that could not be read by ballot scanners, a claim that was quickly debunked by Arizona’s secretary of state. The president’s supporters have sent death threats to poll workers in Pennsylvania.

Yet both before and after Election Day, Trump has been repeatedly contradicted — though never named — by the Department of Homeland Security’s cyberagency, as it has sought to dispel disinformation. The agency’s director, Christopher Krebs, had led the charge to secure election machines, registration systems and tabulation systems across the 50 states, sending experts to help and testing systems for vulnerabilities.

Krebs also argued that his agency had to counter the “hacking of minds as well as infrastructure,” and he created a “rumor control” page on his agency’s federal government website. It has repeatedly contradicted Trump, explaining why mail-in ballots do not lend themselves to fraud, and how states assure that the dead do not cast ballots.

Krebs, a former Microsoft executive with a quick wit and a willingness to resist political pressure, did not back down when these efforts created a backlash in the White House. And he was praised in public recently by the acting secretary of Homeland Security, Chad F. Wolf, for the “rumor control” effort.

Krebs has widely been rumored to be on the hit list of officials who may be fired by the White House, along with the CIA director, Gina Haspel, and the FBI director, Christopher A. Wray. But so far, the boom has not been lowered.

One of Krebs’ top deputies, Bryan Ware, the assistant director for cybersecurity, submitted his resignation Thursday.

In a statement, Lily Adams, a spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, said, “It has always been clear that this election was free, fair and secure, and now even Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security has fact checked his lies.”