Attacks on Absentee Voting During the 2020 Campaign

In the run-up to the 2020 election, the Trump campaign advised county officials in North Carolina not to follow newly enacted voting rules, and sent probing inquiries to local officials in Georgia and Wisconsin about planned election procedures in an apparent hunt for voter fraud. American Oversight wants to know if similar interference happened in other key jurisdictions.

Amid the unprecedented challenge of managing an election during a pandemic, local officials faced a barrage of attacks on rules and procedures from then-President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign. American Oversight is investigating how his campaign and other outside entities sought to suppress or undermine voting rights by interfering with state and local absentee voting. 

In North Carolina in late September 2020, after the state elections board introduced new procedures to make it easier for voters to fix errors with their mail-in ballots — an issue that disproportionately affected Black voters in the state — the Trump campaign pressured local officials to ignore the new rules. The procedural changes had been made as part of a settlement in a lawsuit brought by a voting rights group. 

“The NC Republican Party advises you to not follow the procedures,” Trump campaign operative Heather Ford told county officials in a September email, as reported by the Associated Press. 

CNN also reported in September that the Trump campaign had contacted local officials in key swing states with requests for detailed information about voting procedures. In Wisconsin, more than 1,800 municipal clerks received data requests from the Trump Victory committee that “at first glance looked like a public records request.” County officials in Georgia received a 59-question survey from the campaign that “that probed how that state’s mail-in system will be structured at every level,” according to CNN. 

Questions in the Wisconsin inquiry appeared aimed at undermining faith in the security of voting by mail. For example, CNN reported that the document asked, “What steps are taken to make certain that a voter who votes by mail is unable to also vote in-person?” — echoing Trump’s advice to his voters that they should attempt to vote both by mail and in person, ostensibly to check that their first vote was counted. (Intentionally double voting is a type of voter fraud often warned against by conservatives seeking to limit access to absentee voting, but is exceptionally rare.) 

In October, the Justice Department also weakened long-standing election interference guidance, allowing federal prosecutors to take investigative actions before the election — even if those actions could tip the scales at the polls — if a case implicated the “integrity of any component of the federal government,” including specifically fraud involving postal workers. 

Throughout the election season, the Trump campaign and its allies also pursued legal challenges that sought to curtail access to mail-in voting and other forms of early voting that helped drive the record turnout that voted Trump out of office.

American Oversight is investigating contact between local officials and outside entities, including local and national Republican operatives as well as the Justice Department, about election rules and procedures. In October, we sent requests targeting the communications of officials in key localities in
Wisconsin, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Florida

These efforts have already started to produce records. Emails from Harris County, Tex., show communications about absentee ballot issues, including signature matching and other concerns, between local elections officials and Alan Vera, the Harris County Republican Party’s ballot security chairman who helped found the voting-restriction group True the Vote. Vera’s voter-registration challenges in 2018 led more than 1,700 registrations to be erroneously placed on a suspension list. 

We will continue to investigate 2020 efforts to limit voting rights and ballot access as well as Trump and his supporters’ attempts to undermine the legitimacy of the election results.

Updates

News Roundup: The Evolution of the Big Lie

September 16, 2021
This week saw two major victories for transparency in Arizona and Pennsylvania — and new developments in the partisan election investigation in Wisconsin.

From Voter-Fraud Myths to Bogus Election Audits: The Evolution of the Big Lie

September 13, 2021
On Monday, American Oversight published an in-depth look at the "Big Lie" and the decades-long campaign by conservative activists and lawmakers to hype up the threat of voter fraud.

News Roundup: Transparency Is Coming, Even Amid ‘Audit’ Report Delays

August 27, 2021
As the Arizona Senate continues its efforts to delay transparency in its election "audit," its contractors have introduced yet more delays of their own.

New Emails Show Election Assistance Commission Officials in Communication with Anti-Voting Rights Groups

July 19, 2021
The emails contain an exchange between EAC officials and representatives from groups that have pushed for anti-voting legislation across the country since the November 2020 election.

News Roundup: From the Trump White House to Wisconsin

June 17, 2021
New emails released to Congress show the former president exerting pressure on Justice Department officials to support his baseless fraud claims. The lies haven't disappeared.

News Roundup: The Arizona Audit’s Ongoing Threat to Democracy

May 20, 2021
Every week seems to bring alarming and often incredible news from the Arizona election audit. American Oversight is now suing the Arizona Senate for related records.

News Roundup: The Big Lie Becomes Big Policy

March 25, 2021
The sheer number of voting-restriction bills currently floating in state legislatures makes it hard to keep track of where each proposal stands. But they all point to the fact that conservative leaders and fundraisers have increasingly adopted such restrictions as a primary policy position.

News Roundup: The Lie Lives On

March 4, 2021
This week, we obtained copies of phony electoral vote certifications and DHS records from the day of the Jan. 6 attack, and the Transportation Department released a report on former Secretary Chao’s misuse of her position.

Investigations Update: Covid-19 Outbreaks in Meatpacking Facilities, New Arizona Voting-Restriction Bills

March 2, 2021
See the latest in our investigations into worker safety and health in meatpacking facilities during the coronavirus pandemic, voting restrictions in the states, and Stephen Miller’s influence over immigration policy.

Investigations Update: Poll Watchers, Vaccine Communications, and Continued Political Interference in Pandemic Response

October 27, 2020
See the latest in our investigations into state elections operations, political interference in the pandemic response, and the executive order to cease federal diversity and inclusion training.
Show all updates

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