Photo illustration by The Caucus
An annotated guide to the distortions, half-truths and outright lies about the 2020 election in Pennsylvania
By Mike Wereschagin/LNP | LancasterOnline
This story first appeared on July 18, 2021.
As the first panel of witnesses at the Nov. 25 Senate Majority Policy Committee hearing in Gettysburg was about to testify, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin County, leaned over to committee chairman Sen. Dave Argall and asked, “Are we going to swear them in?”
Argall, R-Berks and Schuylkill counties, shook his head.
“No,” he said.
What followed was three hours of mostly false, misleading and mistaken testimony about the 2020 presidential election in Pennsylvania. The partisan hearing became a seminal moment in the spread of the Big Lie about massive voter fraud and helped lay the ideological foundation for the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Some witnesses seemed not to understand the process they had observed, and misinterpreted long-standing practices of election workers as evidence of something nefarious. Others presented conjectures unsupported by evidence or law. In still other cases, the complaints were true accounts of legitimate problems in the 2020 election, though they do not approach the systemic fraud former President Donald Trump and his supporters claim.
The hearing would also play a key role in the professional defanging of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who was responsible for one-fifth of the approximately 50 false and misleading statements The Caucus identified in a review of the hearing.
“The seriousness of respondent’s uncontroverted misconduct cannot be overstated,” the New York Supreme Court wrote in a June 24 decision suspending Giuliani’s law license, which he had held for 52 years. “… One only has to look at the ongoing present public discord over the 2020 election, which erupted into violence, insurrection and death on January 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol, to understand the extent of the damage that can be done when the public is misled by false information about the elections.”
Mastriano — who organized the hearing and, later, sent busloads of people to the protest that preceded the Jan. 6 insurrection — continues to cite the hearing in his quest to replicate the partisan election review in Maricopa County, Ariz.
He has billed both the audit — which would be the third conducted into the 2020 election in Pennsylvania — and the hearing as an attempt to learn the truth.
As far as the Gettysburg hearing goes, a review of the claims witnesses made show it was anything but.
Claim: Pennsylvania approved 1.8 million mail ballots and received 1.4 million back, but 2.5 million mail votes were recorded in the presidential election.
Our finding: False. Public records show more than 3 million people requested a mail-in ballot and more than 2.6 million returned them.
Though some Trump supporters still cite this falsehood, Giuliani himself has admitted it is untrue. While attempting to preserve his law license in a disciplinary hearing before the New York Supreme Court, Giuliani tried to pin the blame for the deception on an unnamed assistant. The court didn’t buy his explanation, stating “there is simply no proof to support this explanation. For instance, there is no affidavit from this supposed team member who is not identified by name or otherwise,” the court wrote in its decision suspending Giuliani’s law license.
Claim: About 682,770 mail-in ballots were entered into voting systems in Allegheny and Philadelphia counties without any Republican witnesses.
Our finding: False. Several of the witnesses Giuliani called at this same hearing testified that they witnessed canvassing in those counties, putting the lie to Giuliani’s claim. Trump’s legal team had tried to make a similar claim in federal court, but dropped that portion of its lawsuit 10 days before this hearing — a fact which Giuliani almost certainly knew before repeating the falsehood at this hearing, the New York Supreme Court noted.
During a hearing on Nov. 17, District Judge Matthew Brann pressed Giuliani on whether he was alleging fraud. Unlike Giuliani’s press conferences or state legislative hearings at which he wasn’t sworn in, lying in court could have carried criminal penalties. Giuliani told the judge his case “doesn’t plead fraud.”
“Count I makes no mention of the poll-watching allegations, nor does it seek relief for any violation of law on the basis of those allegations,” Brann wrote in his decision four days before the hearing.
The New York Supreme Court cited the dishonesty of Giuliani’s claim on page 14 of its decision to suspend his law license.
Claim: More than 22,000 mail-in ballots were returned the day they were mailed.
Our finding: False and misleading. Department of State records list the same mailed and received dates for just over 42,400 ballots. Act 77 of 2019 allowed voters to apply for, be approved for, receive, fill out and submit mail-in ballots on the same day. Several counties set up satellite election offices to expand access to this form of early voting.
Claim: More than 8,000 dead people voted.
Our finding: False. On page 15 of their decision, the New York Supreme Court justices noted that at various times Giuliani he falsely claimed between 8,000 and 30,000 dead people voted while failing “to provide a scintilla of evidence for any of the varying and wildly inconsistent numbers of dead people he factually represented voted in Philadelphia during the 2020 presidential election. Although respondent assured the public that he was investigating this claim, respondent has not provided this tribunal with any report or the results of any investigation which supports his statements about how many dead voters he claims voted in Philadelphia in the 2020 presidential election.”
Claim: Mail-in ballots were not inspected by any Republicans in Philadelphia and Allegheny counties. “I can’t be absolutely certain but I do believe the witnesses will show that a Republican never got to see a single ballot.”
Our finding: False. Ten days before this hearing, the Trump campaign dropped this claim from its lawsuit challenging his loss in Pennsylvania.
Claim: “Many scholars, many experts” believe mail-in ballots are “very dangerous” and “very easy to forge.”
Our finding: False. Pennsylvania’s mail-in voting system includes a public application process so every voter’s identity can be independently verified, and the mailed ballots include bar codes on the envelopes and coding on the ballots so scanners can verify their authenticity.
Claim: Justice Souter, former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker warned against using mail-in voting because “every place it’s been used it’s led to tremendous fraud.”
Our finding: False. In his dissent in Crawford v. Marion County, Souter called absentee ballots “less reliable,” and said there were instances of absentee-ballot fraud in Indiana. He also called them more convenient, and he never recommended against their use. Carter and Baker, co-chairs of the Commission on Federal Election Reform, also did not warn against mail-in voting. In Section 4.2 of their report, they warned it was “likely to increase the risks of fraud” in places with few ballot-integrity safeguards, such as a robust system for tracking mail-in ballots, which Pennsylvania has.
Five states allow elections to be conducted entirely by mail, and none has experienced the “tremendous fraud” Giuliani claimed. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, documented one case of absentee ballot fraud in Pennsylvania in the 2020 election: Bruce Bartman fraudulently registered his deceased mother and mother-in-law, applied for absentee ballots, and attempted to use them to vote for Trump. In Allegheny County, Francis Fiore Presto was sentenced to 250 hours of community service and 24 months in the county’s Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program for fraudulently obtaining a ballot for his wife, Judy, who died in 2013. Presto is a Republican. Of the 28 cases of voter fraud documented by Heritage in Pennsylvania since 1994, nine, or fewer than one-third, involved absentee ballots.
Claim: Republican observers were “put in chutes like they were cows” to keep them from seeing ballots, a restriction that had “never happened before.”
Our finding: Partly false, partly misrepresentative. Republicans were allowed the same access as other canvass watchers. Keeping watchers at least six feet from canvassers never happened before because the November election took place during a once-in-a-century pandemic where social distancing was a primary preventative measure against COVID-19’s spread.
Claim: “Under normal circumstances, like if this were a fair media, your state would’ve been called for Trump.”
Our finding: False. Well ahead of Nov. 3, election officials and numerous experts said the unprecedented number of mail-in votes, combined with lawmakers’ refusal to allow counties to start canvassing ballots early, all but assured the result would not be known on election night.
Claim: Biden’s margin of victory in Virginia was one percent, and “I think we may have actually won Virginia.
Our finding: False. Biden’s 451,000-vote margin of victory in Virginia equates to a margin of 10 percentage points.
Claim: The U.S. Constitution allows the Pennsylvania General Assembly to throw out election results and select their own electors after an election is over.
Our finding: False. The Constitution says state legislatures “shall appoint in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct a number of electors.” The General Assembly did set the manner in which electors would be selected when it passed Act 77 and, before that, other components of the state Election Code. Legal experts say this theory, advanced by both Giuliani’s and co-counsel Jenna Ellis, does not stand up to scrutiny.
Phil Waldron, Texas business owner and retired Army colonel
Claim: Voting systems in the United States were built to be manipulated.
Our finding: False. Security evaluations were part of the public certification process elections systems manufacturers had to go through to before being approved for use by counties. Details about those certifications are publicly available.
Claim: The son of a Cuban intelligence officer told Waldrum that deceased Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chaves paid for the development of Smartmatic voting systems in an effort to rig the South American country’s elections.
Our finding: Disputed and misleading. Smartmatic, in court filings, said this is a lie. Also, no county in Pennsylvania uses Smartmatic voting systems.
Claim: Election systems are connected to the internet “from the top to the bottom to the middle.”
Our finding: False. Voting machines are not connected to the internet.
Claim: There is no transparency in how voter information is processed and stored.
Our finding: False. Voter information is publicly available.
Claim: The voting record is able to be modified and or deleted by operators, administrators and “outside threats.”
Our finding: False. Every method of voting in Pennsylvania leaves a paper trail that the voter, election administrator and auditor can verify. Two election audits in Pennsylvania have confirmed the accuracy of the vote count.
Claim: Thirty USB sticks and a laptop were stolen from an election storage facility in September. “You just heard another witness talk about” seeing “nonstandard USB storage devices” brought into a polling place.
Our finding: Misleading. The theft happened in Philadelphia, which uses a different voting system than Delaware County, where witness Greg Stenstrom said he observed other UBS devices. The USB devices couldn’t have been used to meddle in Philadelphia’s vote count, either, because each is “married” to a specific machine. “If placed in another machine, it will cause an error and the machine will not work,” an Election Systems & Software representative told The Philadelphia Inquirer. There is also a paper record of every vote that was used to verify the election results.
Claim: Up to 1.2 million Pennsylvania votes could’ve been altered or fraudulent.
Our finding: False. Every voting system in Pennsylvania creates a paper record of every vote cast, and the election’s accuracy has been verified by two election audits.
Claim: There is “no transparency” into how the votes are processed or where they’re stored.
Our finding: False. The operation of voting systems is detailed in their certification documents, and federal law requires counties to store paper records of federal elections for 22 months.
Claim: There are a dozen ways to interdict the voting process.
Our finding: False. State law mandates that the entire election process be monitored by election workers, law enforcement and campaign representatives so this does not happen, and creates a paper trail of votes so audits can verify that it did not happen. Two such audits have done so in Pennsylvania.
Claim: A spike in reported vote totals on Election Night is “a prime indicator of fraudulent voting.”
Our finding: False. Mail-in votes were canvassed throughout the day and uploaded to reporting systems in batches.
Gregory Stenstrom, Delaware County poll watcher and forensic computer scientist
Claim: County officials prevented Stenstrom from observing the canvass for five hours on Election Day, until he obtained “legal help” to get in.
Our finding: Misleading. Stenstrom arrived at the canvassing site with a poll-watcher certificate, not certification that he was an authorized representative for a candidate, which is what’s required to access canvassing sites, according to Delaware County spokesman Ryan Herlinger. Giving Stenstrom access without authorization would have been a violation of state law. When the executive director of the Delaware County Republican Party emailed the proper authorization to county officials, they allowed Stenstrom in.
Claim: It’s impossible to verify the validity of 100,000 to 150,000 votes in Delaware County.
Our finding: False. The mail-in ballot process — from who applied for a mail-in ballot to who received a mail-in ballot to who returned their mail-in ballot — is public record, as is each person’s corresponding voter record. The counting took place in public, monitored by representatives from both parties. The count’s accuracy has been confirmed by two audits.
Claim: The canvassing process was “forensically destructive” because envelopes were separated from ballots and moved to different parts of the canvassing room.
Our finding: Misleading. This process, which every county does in some form, ensures the privacy of voters in accordance with Article VII, Section 4 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Running an election in any other manner would ignore the centuries-old principle that American voters are free to make their choices privately, without fear of intimidation or coercion.
Claim: Forty-seven flash drives involved in the Delaware County election operation — called V drives — are missing.
Our finding: False. “All V-drives have been accounted for… The V-drives are copies of the information on the ballot scanners used in the precincts. Even if a judge were to lose a V-drive, the scanner can be used to generate a replacement. The data always has been and remains secure in the form of the paper ballots and the images of the paper ballots that are captured by the scanners at the moment the voters fed their ballots into the scanners,” Herlinger said. Herlinger noted the data on the drives “mirror exactly” the paper ballots cast in the election.
Claim: They only updated vote tallies every two to three hours, rather than updating the results live.
Our finding: True. This is how voting systems work. The counting and reporting systems are kept separate to isolate counting machines from internet-connected machines. Results are transferred from counting to reporting systems in batches.
Claim: Forensic evidence of the election’s operation, including chain-of-custody logs, is gone.
Our finding: False. Every paper ballot, signed precinct poll book, signed absentee- and mail-ballot application, ballot scanner, result tapes from Election Night and other records “are preserved and secured,” Herlinger said. Multiple methods of confirming the election’s accuracy remain available.
Claim: There were only supposed to be 126,000 mail-in ballots in Delaware County, but the “universe” ended up being 200,000.
Our finding: False. Fewer than 129,000 mail-in votes were cast for president in Delaware County.
Kim Petterson, authorized representative for state Senate candidate Nicole Ziccarelli
Claim: “The (TV) monitors were pathetic … It looked like they were using old technology. We have the most clearest televisions created in the world now, and these were probably from the 60s.”
Our finding: False. The monitors were flat-screen, high-definition televisions manufactured by the South Korean electronics company LG, and ranging in size from 75 inches to 86 inches. Log books maintained by election workers, who had to sign every observer in and out and issue identification badges, show no record of Petterson ever entering the building.
Justin Kweder, GOP canvass observer in Philadelphia
Claim: Canvass watchers were not allowed to challenge the processing of mail-in ballots. “I find this to be an issue and to be irregular.”
Our finding: True but not irregular. According to the Department of State, which oversees the administration of the Election Code written by the Legislature: “Authorized representatives (which includes poll watchers that have been designated by a candidate or political party to serve as authorized representatives during the pre-canvass or canvass) may not challenge an absentee or mail-in ballot during the pre-canvass or canvass of the ballots. Absentee and mail-in ballot applications may only be challenged prior to 5:00 pm on the Friday prior to the election, and only on good faith grounds that the applicant was not a qualified elector. No other challenges are permitted. Authorized representatives may not engage in, attempt to intimidate, nor interfere with the pre-canvass or canvass of the absentee and mail-in ballots. Challenges to mail-in or absentee ballots, based on signature analysis, are not permitted at any time.”
Claim: “Any restoration of faith can and will only be accomplished after an investigation into this election.”
Our finding: Misleading. Voting machines provide paper records of each vote cast, and the election results have been verified by two audits.
Leah Hoopes, Delaware County poll watcher and Bethel Township committeewoman
Claim: A grant from a group funded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg paid for pop-up voting centers in heavily Democratic areas of Delaware County.
Our finding: Misleading. Twenty-three counties in Pennsylvania received grants from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, to which Zuckerberg donated. Twelve had more Democrats than Republicans and 11 had more Republicans than Democrats, according to voter registration statistics for November 2020. Delaware County received $2.2 million in grant funding, a portion of which paid for satellite offices in the county’s three largest population centers and drop boxes in 41 of the county’s 49 municipalities.
Gary Feldman, Republican political operative and Philadelphia poll watcher
Claim: Two poll workers improperly kept Feldman from a polling place he was entitled to enter as a poll watcher.
Our finding: True. A video shows Feldman being wrongfully barred from observing the vote process. Poll workers mistakenly believed his poll watcher certificate did not grant him access to that specific location. Feldman testified that he was later allowed into another polling place in the city.
David Shestokis, GOP lawyer licensed in Illinois and Florida, and Allegheny County canvass observer
Claim: Last-minute rule changes by local boards of elections made monitoring the process “next to impossible.”
Our finding: False. Candidates’ representatives, including Shestokis, were allowed to observe the canvassing process.
Claim: Mail-in ballots were coming into the count room already sliced open and canvass watchers had “no idea when or where the slicing took place.”
Our finding: False. The ballot-opening machines operated in two rooms, and both locations were in view of the canvass watchers’ areas.
Claim: “There was about six machines where they were feeding the ballots. And while they had six machines feeding the ballots, as they would go in, two or three would kick out to a different tray, and workers sometimes would take the ones that weren’t kicked out and put them in a different stack and sometimes you’d run all of them through again and sometimes run two or three. We never had any idea if they were zeroing out a machine or what they were doing. I asked the county solicitor what’s going on. He told me that this was a Pitney Bowes representative working there that had been sworn in as a county representative and that sometimes the ballot machine doesn’t count those things, so he runs them through. But there was absolutely no provenance to what was going on in the counting machines.”
Our finding: Misleading. Shestokis appears to be confusing the Pitney Bowes mail-sorting machine with machines that count ballots (which are not made by Pitney Bowes). The process he’s referring to sorted the mail into its voting districts, which was necessary before scanning the ballots because different municipalities had different choices on their ballots. It did not tally any votes.
Claim: The Allegheny County solicitor could not describe the journey of a ballot from the time it enters the building through the moment it’s counted.
Our finding: False. According to Allegheny County officials, several people were on hand to explain this very thing to canvass watchers and the media. Two of the workers who were there that day recently did so for a Caucus reporter.
Claim: Having an adversarial party witness the counting process ensures the integrity of an election. “That was completely and utterly absent.”
Our finding: False. Republicans, including Shestokis, were present to monitor the process.
Elizabeth Preate Havey, chair of the Montgomery County Republican Committee
Claim: Party operatives were not able to see whether voters voted twice or were deceased.
Our finding: False. Lists of voters who applied for absentee ballots were available, and the party had the chance to challenge any of them up until the Friday before the election.
Claim: After last-minute guidance from the Department of State, some counties attempted to contact voters whose mail ballots had technical faults that would have disqualified them, while other counties did not. This resulted in voters being treated differently depending on which county they lived in.
Our finding: True. Some counties informed voters that their ballots had been rejected for reasons other than their ineligibility to vote, such as a failing to sign or date the exterior mail-in ballot envelope, or seal their ballot inside a second secrecy envelope, which gave those voters the chance to go to their polling place and cast a provisional ballot. Other counties did not inform voters of these issues. It’s unclear whether this would have resulted in fewer votes for Trump or Biden; although many majority-Republican counties did not allow voters to fix their ballots, Biden still led the mail-in vote in those counties.
Claim: The Kathy Barnette for Congresss campaign found at least 188 deceased people in Montgomery County voted in 2020.
Our finding: Unverified but possible. Preate Harvey provided no evidence of this claim. However, there have been documented cases of voters dying between the day they mailed their ballots and Election Day. In those cases, state law says the votes should not be counted, but if they are counted before officials are aware the person is dead, those votes “shall not of itself invalidate any nomination or election.”
Gloria Lee Snover, Northampton County Republican Party chair
Claim: The Department of State reactivated the registrations of “scores of people who have not voted since the 1990s” so they could receive mail-in ballots “setting up the opportunity for fraud on a massive scale.”
Our finding: False. This is not how the state’s voter registration system works. Voters who’ve been removed from the voter roll cannot be “reactivated” unless they re-register. The Department of State notifies people who have not voted in five years that their status will be changed to “inactive” in preparation for eventual removal from the voter rolls if they do not respond. An inactive voter may change their status to active simply by showing up to vote, at which time they might be asked to show identification.
Donald Trump (the then-president called into the hearing from the White House and was put on speaker so the panel and audience could hear his remarks).
Claim: “This was an election that we won easily, we won it by a lot.”
Our finding: False. Trump received 80,554 fewer votes than Biden in Pennsylvania and 7.1 million fewer than Biden overall.
Claim: Trump received more votes than Ronald Reagan when Reagan won 49 states in 1984.
Our finding: True. Reagan received 54.5 million votes in 1984, or 31.3 percent of the voting-age population (173.9 million), compared to Trump’s 74.2 million, or 29.1 percent of the voting age population (255.2 million). Biden received 81.3 million votes, 7.1 million more than Trump.
Claim: “All you had to do was take a look at the numbers at 10 o’clock in the evening when everybody thought the election was virtually over.”
Our finding: False. Election experts had for months said the count would likely continue well past election day.
This story originally ran as two pieces in the July 13 issue of The Caucus, LNP’s publication covering state government and politics.