Last week the conservative media entertainment complex were all “catapulting the propaganda” of the Trump campaign that mail-in early ballots are rife with fraud, based upon a story manufactured by Donald Trump’s consigliere and fixer, William “Coverup” Barr, the most corrupt attorney general in American history. In the end, this was much-ado about nothing. But the claim of voter fraud will echo in the Epistemic closure of the ‘conservative misinformation feedback loop’ media bubble forever.
This sordid story begins with “Billie Belongs Behind Barr’s” telling the president about a DOJ investigation into nine discarded mail ballots in northeastern Pennsylvania that the president later touted as evidence of widespread election fraud in a radio interview. Barr briefed Trump on investigation into discarded Pennsylvania ballots:
A Justice Department official told ABC News Friday that Attorney General William Barr personally briefed President Donald Trump about the DOJ’s investigation into a small number of ballots in Pennsylvania that were found to be discarded, prior to the information being made public by a U.S. attorney’s office Thursday afternoon.
President Trump went on to first reveal the investigation in an interview with Fox News Radio (of course), where he, without evidence, argued that it bolsters his baseless claims of widespread fraud in mail-in voting.
“They were Trump ballots — eight ballots in an office yesterday in — but in a certain state and they were — they had Trump written on it, and they were thrown in a garbage can. This is what’s going to happen,” Trump said in the interview. “This is what’s going to happen, and we’re investigating that.”
Just to be clear: The Department of Justice “neither confirms nor denies the existence an ongoing investigation” as a matter of policy. This is a cardinal rule at DOJ. After our boy Donny shot his big mouth off about this investigation on Fox News radio that his consigliere Barr had told him about – because Barr is actively working as a member of the Trump reelection campaign to spread disinformation about mail-in ballot voter fraud – Barr had the U.S. Attorney in Pennsylvania do something that no U.S. Attorney is ever supposed to do.
Prior to the news release from the U.S. attorneys office, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany previewed in her press briefing that more information on the investigation would be forthcoming. Barr was made aware of the investigation after a number of local media outlets in Pennsylvania began reaching out to the U.S. attorney’s office for more information and they sought guidance from Main Justice over how to respond, the official said.
“I can confirm for you that Trump ballots, ballots for the president were found in Pennsylvania,” McEnany said. “I believe you should be getting more information on that shortly. Here in the last 24 hours, they were found cast aside.”
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[A] press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced the investigation in a press release later in the day, made no explicit mention of “fraud.” The office said it “began an inquiry into reports of potential issues with a small number of mail-in ballots at the Luzerne County Board of Elections,” and discovered nine ballots in a dumpster which were cast for Trump.
The office later corrected that number to seven and said two others were resealed inside their proper envelope. The investigation remains ongoing, but the U.S. attorney’s office in a letter to the Luzerne County Board of Elections raised the specter that the improperly opened envelopes could possibly be the result of an administrative error.
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Shortly after the announcement from the U.S. attorneys office, the White House and President Trump’s campaign latched onto the investigation as proof behind the susceptibility of mail-in voting to rampant fraud.
“Democrats are trying to steal the election,” Matt Wolking, the deputy director of communications and rapid response with the Trump campaign, tweeted falsely.
But wait … the U.S. Attorney later explained:
“Our investigation has revealed that all or nearly all envelopes received in the elections office were opened as a matter of course,” U.S. attorney David Freed said. “It was explained to investigators the envelopes used for official overseas, military, absentee and mail-in ballot requests are so similar, that the staff believed that adhering to the protocol of preserving envelopes unopened would cause them to miss such ballot requests.”
This turns out to be the crux of the story. Election law expert Rick Hasen in an op-ed at the L.A. Times explains, Don’t fall for claims of voter fraud. Political operatives want to turn errors into a way to throw the election (excerpt):
The controversy that bubbled up on Thursday over nine mishandled ballots in Luzerne County, Pa., illustrates the danger ahead. Even before the Department of Justice issued its announcement, President Trump and his team were complaining that mail-in ballots from military voters cast for him were being thrown into the trash, a claim fitting into his narrative — unsupported by the facts — that massive voter fraud will be used to take a November victory away from him. ABC News reported that Atty. Gen. William Barr briefed Trump on the case before it was publicly announced.
The Justice Department bungled the facts with premature announcements. Nine Trump votes were not tossed. That news release was rescinded and replaced: Seven of the ballots had been marked for Trump; two were unopened. Then came yet more information: A memo from Luzerne County that suggested there was no criminal activity related to the ballots, just administrative error. A temporary contract election worker on the job for only three days may have believed the envelopes contained applications for absentee ballots, not votes. The worker was fired when the error was discovered.
The clarifications did not stop a flood of conservative media stories blowing up the situation as some kind of evidence of a massive conspiracy to throw the election. [Trump, Barr, and Fox News are working in concert to undermine confidence in the election]. The Luzerne County story is troubling, but not because it showed deliberate tampering. Instead it showed how political operatives [i.e., Barr] — this time acting through the Justice Department — could try to give mistakes the aura of a stolen election for political gain. Whatever one thinks about the department announcing an ongoing political investigation in the midst of the election season (which goes against the DOJ’s own standards and practices), there is no non-political reason for releasing information about how the ballots were marked. This was an in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign by the Justice Department.
The best part is, this incident likely only occurred because Republicans had earlier won a portion of a lawsuit regarding “naked ballots” in Pennsylvania. The 9 discarded ballots were tossed because Republicans won their lawsuit requiring them to not be counted:
Here’s what appears to have happened, and we’re going to bullet point this so it’s easy to follow.
- The ballots were discarded by a temporary, or “contract” worker assigned to sort the mail who appears to have been following direction.
- The ballots were military ballots, not absentee or other by-mail ballots.
- The county immediately reported what happened to federal officials, who appear to have immediately politicized the issue.
- “Because these ballots were returned in envelopes similar to absentee ballot requests, elections officials opened them,” The Washington Post reports. “If the ballots weren’t then enclosed in another envelope which shielded the actual vote being cast, they may have been considered ‘naked ballots,’ a term used to describe mail ballots returned without the voter’s intent being protected.
- The Trump campaign and the Pennsylvania GOP in a lawsuit argued that “naked ballots” should not be counted. They won that lawsuit. These nine ballots appear to be “naked ballots,” and that appears to be the reason they were thrown out.
- The contract worker has been told to not return.
- Buzzfeed adds it appears the DOJ violated its own policy by issuing a press release about the “discarded” ballots, and even worse, suggesting this is a case of election fraud, and even worse than that, suggesting one candidate over another was favored.
- MSNBC adds that county officials were not aware of who the ballots were for until the DOJ’s press release was issued.
- Attorney General Bill Barr personally briefed President Trump about the discarded ballots. Trump and his White House press secretary then politicized the event.
- The county elections supervisor was exceedingly thorough. “Garbage from the Elections Bureau from September 14 through September 16, the time the independent contractor was on County property, was put in a dumpster and secured by County staff,” a local Pennsylvania news report states. “The trash was then searched by the FBI, the Luzerne County District Attorney’s Office, the Pennsylvania State Police and county staff. All contents relating to the matter were taken by the FBI.”
The Washington Post further explains, Philadelphia election official warns ‘naked ballots’ may invalidate up to 100,000 votes:
The top election official in Philadelphia is warning that a minor technicality in a new state Supreme Court ruling could cause as many as 100,000 mailed ballots to be rejected statewide in the November election, a potentially significant statistic for a state that President Trump won by about 44,000 votes in 2016.
Lisa Deeley, the Democratic chairwoman of Philadelphia’s election board, warned in a letter to lawmakers this week that the court’s requirement of an additional envelope for voters to mail back with their ballots could disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters in her city and many more statewide.
At issue is the use of “secrecy envelopes,” which are designed to protect the privacy of the voter. A voter returning an absentee ballot must insert the ballot into the secrecy envelope, and then insert that envelope into a larger envelope that carries the mailing address and postage.
For the state’s primary election, local election officials were allowed to accept ballots that were returned without the inner envelope — commonly referred to as “naked ballots” — to accommodate the surge of voters in Pennsylvania who cast absentee ballots for the first time because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But under last week’s court ruling, ballots sent back to election officials without the inner envelope will be rejected, with no opportunity for voters to rectify the problem to make sure their vote is counted.
“It’s just so unfair that we’re disenfranchising people that have done everything right,” Deeley said. “They applied for the mail-in ballot, they got the mail-in ballot, they voted by the mail-in ballot, they put it in an envelope, returned to us on time — and all because of a technicality, their vote isn’t going to count.”
The real crime here is the Republican Party aggressively pursuing an election strategy of voter suppression because suppressing the vote is the only way Republicans can manufacture a close election which they can dispute in the courts. Republicans are purposefully with malignant intent misleading voters about early mail-in ballots to fit Trump’s bogus narrative.