President Trump on Monday morning inaccurately described Georgia’s vote counting process and implausibly urged the state’s Republican governor to “overrule” its Republican secretary of state.
Why won’t Governor @BrianKempGA, the hapless Governor of Georgia, use his emergency powers, which can be easily done, to overrule his obstinate Secretary of State, and do a match of signatures on envelopes. It will be a “goldmine” of fraud, and we will easily WIN the state….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 30, 2020
The tweet was the latest of Mr. Trump’s continuing assault on election results in Georgia and its top Republican officials, which has ignited an intraparty feud in the state.
Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia does not have the authority to do what Mr. Trump is suggesting. Moreover, signature verification is already part of the vote counting process.
When absentee ballots are received, Georgia’s election officials verify the signature on the envelopes. The ballots and envelopes are then separated to protect privacy, so rechecking the envelopes during a recount would be meaningless.
“Georgia law prohibits the governor from interfering in elections. The secretary of state, who is an elected constitutional officer, has oversight over elections that cannot be overridden by executive order,” a spokesman for Mr. Kemp told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The notion that “the governor has inherent executive authority to suspend or investigate or somehow interfere with this process — that’s just not true,” said Anthony Michael Kreis, a constitutional law professor at Georgia State University. “There is no plausible case here whatsoever.”
Unlike the federal government, Georgia does not have a unitary executive and its governor and secretary of state have separate duties. Even the governor’s emergency powers are limited.
Mr. Kreis said that Georgia’s code was “very clear” on the kinds of things a governor can do in a state of emergency. Mr. Kemp can move resources and funds and enact temporary measures, Mr. Kreis said, but “he does not have the authority to expressly interfere with elections.”
Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, continued to push back on Mr. Trump’s and his allies’ baseless claims of mass voter fraud in a news conference on Monday.
“The truth matters, especially around election administration,” Mr. Raffensperger said. “There are those who exploit the emotions of many Trump supporters with fantastic claims, half-truths, misinformation and frankly, they’re misleading the president as well, apparently.”
How much does Facebook’s handling of misinformation affect its employees’ morale?
According to the company’s regular “Pulse” surveys, which ask employees about working for the social network, it is a factor.
Employee sentiment started off promisingly this year, according to the surveys, which were viewed by The New York Times. As Facebook responded to the coronavirus crisis and a surge in usage by simply making sure its site stayed online, employees felt driven and purposeful, the data show.
But that didn’t last for long. In May, as protests supporting the Black Lives Matter movement grew, President Trump posted a message to his Facebook page and on Twitter that said, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The message was highly divisive, with civil rights groups and lawmakers saying it incited violence and calling for it to be taken down.
Twitter responded by making Mr. Trump’s tweet less visible, saying that it glorified violence and violated the site’s rules. But Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, said it was important to his company’s ideals around free expression to keep the post up and visible on Mr. Trump’s page.
Facebook employees did not take it well. Many spoke out internally to disagree with Mr. Zuckerberg. Morale deteriorated. According to the Pulse surveys viewed by The Times, overall favorability of the company had dropped to 69 percent by October, from 78 percent in May. BuzzFeed News previously reported on the Pulse survey data.
“Top constructive themes from comments mention decision-making related to hate speech and misinformation on our platforms, and concerns that leadership is focusing on the wrong metrics,” read a quote from the survey.
Pride in working at Facebook also dropped to 62 percent in October, down 16.6 percentage points from May and down 8.4 percentage points from a year ago, according to the data. Just over half of the respondents felt that Facebook was having a socially positive impact on the world, down 23 percentage points since May.
And perhaps worst of all for Mr. Zuckerberg, confidence in executive leadership was at 56 percent last month, down 20.3 percentage points from May and a 4.8 percentage point drop from a year ago.
“Feedback is part of our culture and we regularly check in with our employees to see where we can do better,” said Sona Iliffe-Moon, a Facebook spokeswoman, in a statement. “In this unprecedented and challenging year, the vast majority of employees report a deep belief in our mission and say they’d recommend working at Facebook to their friends.”
She added: “Of course, there are areas where we can improve, which is why we do these surveys.”
Facebook employees were more positive about other areas, such as the way they felt about their managers. Roughly 84 percent of respondents rated their managers favorably in October, up about 1 percentage point from May and part of an upward trajectory since the second half of 2017.
But the reality of working from home also took its toll, according to the survey data. Work/life favorability dropped to 42 percent approval, a 6.2 percentage point decrease since May and an 8.1 percentage point drop from a year ago. Much like the rest of corporate America, Facebook employees reported challenges with a lack of clear boundaries between work and home.
Like many other big companies, Facebook plans to continue supporting workers as they work remotely. (That goes doubly for what Facebook calls “n00bs,” or new employees.) The company has said that it would allow many employees to work from home permanently.
One conclusion from the survey, Facebook executives wrote, was that there was a communication issue with employees. Leaders said in the survey that they would try to improve communicating the rationale behind their decisions, including by “showing that we’re learning from our mistakes.”
The executives did not address whether they would make different types of decisions.
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. won Georgia, but that has not stopped people from claiming that President Trump still has a chance to change the outcome and win the state’s 16 electoral votes.
The hashtag #WriteInTrumpForGA was one of Twitter’s top trending topics on Tuesday afternoon, with more than 23,000 tweets. Many called for Georgia voters to cast their ballots in January’s runoff elections for the state’s two Senate races for Mr. Trump. Doing so, the tweets claimed, would change the election results and get Mr. Trump re-elected.
That isn’t true. Georgia officials certified Mr. Biden’s victory in the state last week, and Senate races have no bearing on the presidential election. Furthermore, runoff elections in Georgia do not permit write-in candidates. In fact, state officials said, there is no line allocated for a write-in on the paper ballot or a button for it on touch-screen voting.
“Our voters are definitely going through some kind of emotional abuse right now,” Jordan Fuchs, Georgia’s deputy secretary of state, said in an interview. “There’s not even an option to write in a candidate.”
Georgia on Tuesday began a machine recount of the votes cast in the presidential election after a request from Mr. Trump’s campaign, which was allowed under state law because the margin was less than 0.5 percentage points. But an earlier hand tally confirmed Mr. Biden’s lead in the state, which was over 12,000 votes, and state officials said the recount was highly unlikely to change the outcome.
Some people on Twitter and Parler, a social media site that has become a haven for conservatives, have acknowledged that diverting votes from the state’s two Republican senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, would hurt their chances against their Democratic opponents in the runoff elections on Jan. 5.
But some Trump supporters said they should “punish” Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue for not more firmly supporting or investigating Mr. Trump’s baseless claims that machines using Dominion Voting Systems software had altered votes in the presidential election.
“This is really simple: the GOP in every swing state (all of which were rightfully won by Donald Trump) must ensure that their electors cast their votes for the rightful winner,” tweeted Pete D’Abrosca, who unsuccessfully tried to run for a U.S. House seat in North Carolina in 2020. “If the @GOP fails to do this, we will punish Purdue and Loeffler in Georgia.”
Representatives for the Loeffler and Perdue campaigns did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, pushed back on the idea on Monday.
That is NONSENSE.
IGNORE those people.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) November 23, 2020
Those hoping for the election of Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the Democratic nominees, have also co-opted the #WriteInTrumpForGA hashtag. Many have posted tongue-in-cheek tweets to encourage Trump supporters to write in the president’s name or to boycott the runoff altogether to protest the baseless fraud claims. Doing so would improve the Democrats’ chances.
“I heard that when Republicans write-in ‘Trump’ for Ossoff/Warnock in Georgia, they own the libs!” one user tweeted.
A Twitter spokesman said posts related to the write-in hashtag did not violate the company’s civic integrity policies and would not be labeled. Twitter is no longer adding warning labels to tweets about the outcome of the presidential election because it has already been called, the spokesman said.
YouTube suspended One America News Network, one of the right-wing channels aggressively pushing false claims about widespread election fraud, for violating its policies on misinformation.
But the misinformation that got OAN in trouble on Tuesday had nothing to do with the election. YouTube removed a video that violated its policies against content claiming that there is a guaranteed cure for Covid-19. YouTube said it issued a strike against the channel as part of its three-strike policy. That meant OAN is not permitted to upload new videos or livestream on the platform for one week.
The move came on the same day that a group of Democratic senators urged YouTube to reverse its policy of allowing videos containing election outcome misinformation and pushed the company to adopt more aggressive steps to curb the spread of false content and manipulated media ahead of crucial runoff elections for Georgia’s two Senate seats in January.
In the weeks after the election, OAN has published articles challenging the integrity of the vote and pushing President Trump’s false claims that he won the election.
YouTube has said OAN is not an authoritative news source and stripped advertising from a few of its videos for undermining confidence in elections with “demonstrably false” information. However, the videos remained available on the platform, helping OAN to gain share among right-wing channels.
In addition to the one-week suspension, YouTube said it kicked OAN out of a program that allows partner channels to generate advertising revenue from videos for repeated violations of its COVID-19 misinformation policy and other infractions. One America News’s YouTube channel will remain up during the suspension.
In a statement on Wednesday, One America News said the video featured the opinions of “frontline doctors,” which the network believed were important to hear even if they differed from the views of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. OAN said the video was still available on its website.
“Although OAN will abide by YouTube’s requirements for any video made available on YouTube, OAN will not let YouTube’s arbitrary rules infringe upon its First Amendment editorial rights to inform the public,” the network said.
YouTube, which is owned by Google, has come under criticism for allowing videos spreading false claims of widespread election fraud under a policy that permits videos that comment on the outcome of an election.
“Like other companies, we allow discussions of this election’s results and the process of counting votes, and are continuing to closely monitor new developments,” Ivy Choi, a YouTube spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Our teams are working around the clock to quickly remove content that violates our policies and ensure that we are connecting people with authoritative information about elections.”
YouTube said it had surfaced videos from what it deemed to be authoritative news sources in search results and recommendations, while affixing a label to videos discussing election results. That label states that The Associated Press has called the election for Joseph R. Biden Jr. with a link to a results page on Google.
In a letter sent Tuesday to Susan Wojcicki, YouTube’s chief executive, four Democratic senators — Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Gary Peters of Michigan and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — said they had “deep concern with the proliferation of misinformation” on the platform. The letter pointed to how one YouTube video with the baseless claim of voter fraud in Michigan had five million views.
“These videos seek to undermine our democracy and cast doubt on the legitimacy of President-elect Biden’s incoming administration,” the senators wrote. “Moreover, because the current president has not committed to a peaceful transition of power, misinformation and manipulated media content on your platform may fuel civil unrest.”
The senators also expressed concern about the runoff elections for the two Georgia Senate seats, because those races will garner “significant national interest.” In a series of questions to Ms. Wojcicki, the senators asked if YouTube would commit to removing false or misleading information about the 2020 election and the Georgia races. They asked the company to respond by Dec. 8.
Two Trumps and a set of right-wing commentators have been the top so-called superspreaders of election misinformation, according to research by Avaaz, a global human rights group.
In descending order, the five included the right-wing commentators Dan Bongino, Mark Levin, Diamond and Silk, and David J. Harris Jr., as well as one of the president’s sons, Donald Trump Jr. President Trump topped the list, according to the research.
They were part of a larger set of 25 superspreaders who, together, accounted for 28.6 percent of the interactions that people had with voter fraud misinformation, according to the Avaaz analysis.
Since Election Day, there have been over 77.1 million likes, comments and shares on Facebook from the top 25 superspreaders of voter fraud misinformation. The top five alone are responsible for 49.2 million of those interactions, or 63 percent of the total interactions on these pages that have repeatedly pushed voter fraud misinformation claims.
“The superspreaders in this list, with the helping hand of Facebook’s algorithm, were just central to creating this flood of falsehoods that is now defining the political debate for millions across the country, and could continue to do so for years to come,” said Fadi Quran, a director at Avaaz.
A spokesman for Facebook said the company was taking “every opportunity” to label posts that misrepresented the voting process and to direct people to a voting information center.
Voter fraud claims include false reports that malfunctioning voting machines intentionally miscounted mail-in votes and other irregularities somehow affected the vote. All of those claims were investigated by election officials and journalists who found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
President Trump and his supporters have used those claims to try to cast doubt on the results of the vote, and to file lawsuits in key swing states where they are disputing the results of the Nov 3. election. The lawsuits have been largely dismissed.
Despite the lack of evidence presented in court, or online, the voter fraud claims have gathered steam. On Monday morning, President Trump shared the false claim on his Facebook page that in certain states, there were more votes than people who voted. The post was shared over 15,000 times and liked over 300,000 times within several hours.
A tweet wishing President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. happy birthday last week generated false rumors that Mr. Biden marked his 78th birthday on Friday with a maskless party.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta tweeted a video of herself celebrating with Mr. Biden as a crowd sang happy birthday. She later noted that the video was shot in 2019, on Mr. Biden’s 77th birthday, at the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta after that night’s Democratic debate.
Mr. Biden is wearing the same red tie in the video as he did in the debate. A video of the same event taken from a different angle shows television screens with the words “Debate Viewing Party” hanging on the walls.
Mr. Biden has consistently worn masks during the pandemic and has been mocked by President Trump for doing so.
Apart from the inaccurate claims that the video was shot this year, some online commentators used the video to criticize the restrictions on Americans’ Thanksgiving plans that have been urged by public health officials, including those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Though the video shows a large, prepandemic gathering, it has nothing to do with Thanksgiving specifically.)
The claims follow several accurate reports about other Democratic politicians flouting social distancing guidelines. Photos have emerged showing a maskless Gov. Gavin Newsom of California attending a dinner at an expensive restaurant in Napa Valley and the state’s senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, wandering the corridors of Congress without a mask. In New York, local Democratic leaders mingled recently at a birthday party in Brooklyn, rarely wearing masks.
Mr. Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris were in Wilmington, Del., on Friday, meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader. They sat several feet apart, wearing masks, and Ms. Pelosi gave Mr. Biden a white orchid for his birthday.
On Friday morning, President Trump shared a seemingly innocuous article on Twitter. The piece said that his sister, Elizabeth Trump Grau, had publicly voiced her support for her brother amid his baseless claims that he won the 2020 election.
“Thank you Elizabeth,” Mr. Trump wrote to his sister, who has long avoided the spotlight. “LOVE!”
There was just one problem: Ms. Trump Grau had not said what the article claimed. In fact, the article Mr. Trump shared was based on a fake Twitter account that posed as his sister.
That article, on the website of a conservative talk-radio host named Wayne Dupree, quoted a post from a Twitter account named “Betty Trump” that used a photo of Ms. Trump Grau as its profile picture.
“This election inspired me to break my silence and speak out on behalf of my family,” the account said in a post on Wednesday. “My brother Don won this election and will fight this to the very end. We’ve always been a family of fighters.”
The article on Mr. Dupree’s site called the comments “so powerful” and said they showed how “our president really does have such an amazing family.”
Had the article’s author looked more closely, though, she would have noticed some suspicious details about the account. It was a day old. The photos it used of Ms. Trump Grau were taken from Getty Images and past news articles about her. And since that first post, the account had tweeted increasingly bizarre messages, sharply criticizing Democrats, journalists and Republicans who had questioned the false claim that Mr. Trump was re-elected.
“If someone pours gravy down Chris Wallace’s pants at Thanksgiving dinner, I promise, I will take care of the legal fees!” the account said, referring to the Fox News anchor. Another post said, “The perfect Trump drink on a rough day,” with a photo of a can of Natty Daddy, a cheap malt beer.
The bizarre episode illustrates how easily misinformation spreads online, often with the help of the president himself. Right-wing websites that seek to support the president’s baseless claims, or simply attract clicks so they can sell more ads, often eschew the traditional principles of journalism, such as simple fact-checking. And the social media companies aid the cycle by making it simple to share misinformation, including via fake accounts, and by training their algorithms to promote material that attracts more attention, as sensational and divisive posts often do.
Ms. Trump Grau did not respond to messages left at a phone number and email listed for her in public records.
Vice News reported on Friday that a person who identified herself as Ms. Trump Grau had said she was trying to get the account deleted. “I have no statement,” the person was quoted as telling Vice. “I’m just annoyed about this whole thing.”
President Trump’s tweet about his sister brought the fake account a sudden rush of attention on Friday morning. Shortly after, Mr. Dupree’s website updated the piece with a disclaimer that said the account might be an impostor.
“While this has not been officially ‘fact-checked’ by social media executives and professionals, we’re hearing from many others that this is not actually the account of Ms. Elizabeth Trump,” the site said. “We’ll leave it up with this update, and wait for official fact-checkers to weigh in.”
Hours later, the account came clean. “I would’ve clarified sooner that I was a parody but I certainly didn’t anticipate President Trump himself taking notice of the account,” the person running the account posted on Twitter. “Hope y’all will forgive me — feel bad for creating any confusion. LOVE!”
The president’s post remained up hours later.
Mr. Dupree said in an email that the article’s author had simply rewritten a post she had found on another conservative website. “When I found out, I was confused and I immediately went to the author and they went back to the website they claimed it was from but they didn’t see it so we came up with the statement,” he said. “I don’t want people, readers to think we are fake news.”
The article remained on his website on Friday afternoon.
By that time, Twitter had deleted the account that posed as Ms. Trump Grau. A Twitter spokesman said the account was “permanently suspended for violating the Twitter Rules on platform manipulation and spam.”
Just before the account was deleted, @TheBettyTrump posted another message: “President Trump looks tired … he’s working so hard.”
Davey Alba contributed reporting.
Here at Daily Distortions, we try to debunk false and misleading information that has gone viral. We also want to give you a sense of how popular that misinformation is, in the overall context of what is being discussed on social media.
On Fridays, we feature lists of the 10 most-engaged stories of the week in the United States, as ranked by NewsWhip, a firm that compiles social media performance data. (NewsWhip tracks the number of reactions, shares and comments each story receives on Facebook, along with shares on Pinterest and by a group of influential users on Twitter.) This week’s data runs from 9:01 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 13, until 9 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 20.
The election is over, but you wouldn’t know it from social media.
All week, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have been filled with highly engaged stories about President Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of his unsuccessful re-election bid. Some of these stories have presented utterly false claims about vote-deleting computer programs and imaginary military raids. Others — like the winner of this week’s list, a story by the right-wing outlet The Daily Wire about a Georgia county that found uncounted votes during the state’s recount — simply blow minor discrepancies in vote tabulations out of proportion. (The missing votes were the result of a reporting error, and there were nowhere near enough of them to make up for Mr. Biden’s lead in Georgia. State officials have since certified the election results, reaffirming Mr. Biden’s victory after finding no evidence of widespread voter fraud.)
Despite the surfeit of election-related news, the top 10 stories by engagement on social media this week were only roughly half about politics. The other half? A mixture of news about the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and Christmas specials (which will be shown on TV this year after all, thank goodness), a greenlit sequel to the superhero movie “Constantine” (starring Keanu Reeves), a story about a former MasterChef Junior winner who died of cancer at age 14, and a story about a trio of Black triplets who graduated from high school with 4.0 grade point averages.
Here is the full list:
The Daily Wire: BREAKING: Second Georgia County Finds Thousands More Votes, Majority Are For Trump (1,128,503 interactions)
Screenrant: Keanu Reeves’ Constantine 2 Is Happening, Says Star (873,362 interactions)
ComicBook.com: ‘A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’ and Christmas Specials To Air on Broadcast TV After All (869,846 interactions)
CNN: Joe Biden becomes first Democrat in 28 years to win Georgia (772,833 interactions)
The Blaze: Candace Owens sues Facebook fact checkers for defamation: ‘Time to fact-check the fact checkers’ (663,117 interactions)
Los Angeles Times: The holidays are saved! Charlie Brown specials will air on PBS after all (628,685 interactions)
CNN: Georgia nearing completion of statewide ballot audit, official says (537,081 interactions)
Washington Post: Georgia’s secretary of state says fellow Republicans are pressuring him to find ways to exclude legal ballots (528,379 interactions)
HuffPost: ‘MasterChef Junior’ Star Ben Watkins Dies At Age 14 (508,233 interactions)
Black Enterprise: Triplets Who Graduated Summa Cum Laude With 4.0 GPAs Honored By Their High School (507,260 interactions)
An affidavit filed by President Trump’s legal team intended to prove voter fraud in Michigan apparently used data taken from counties in Minnesota, the latest in a series of embarrassing missteps that have made Mr. Trump’s uphill legal fight even steeper.
As part of the Trump campaign’s effort to discredit the results in battleground states, the lawyers Rudolph W. Giuliani and Sidney Powell have made a series of unsubstantiated and outlandish claims that Dominion Voting Systems, which sells voting software to states, electronically erased millions of Trump votes at the secret behest of liberal operatives.
To bolster that claim, they have pointed to areas that had abnormally high turnout rates compared to prior elections, most recently as part of a case filed in Georgia intended to show a nationwide pattern of fraud.
On Wednesday, L. Lin Wood, an Atlanta lawyer working with the team, filed an analysis from Russell Ramsland, a failed Republican congressional candidate and self-proclaimed election fraud expert, purporting to show suspiciously high turnout in blue areas of Michigan.
When the editors of Powerline, a conservative legal website whose contributors hail from Minnesota and other parts of the Upper Midwest, reviewed the nine-page document, they discovered a major problem: Many municipalities cited in the Michigan document — Monticello, Albertville, Lake Lillian, Houston, Brownsville, Runeberg, Wolf Lake, Height of Land, Detroit Lakes, Frazee, Kandiyohi — are located in an entirely different “M” state, Minnesota.
“This is a catastrophic error, the kind of thing that causes a legal position to crash and burn,” wrote John H. Hinderaker, a veteran litigator who believes any incidences of fraud are not on the scale Mr. Trump’s team is claiming.
Mr. Hinderaker surmised the error was the result of mixing up the abbreviations for the two states, “MI” for “MN.”
On Thursday, a federal judge in Georgia rejected Mr. Wood’s attempt to halt certification of Mr. Biden’s victory in the state. On Thursday, Mr. Giuliani said Mr. Trump’s team planned to plow on with its legal challenges in Georgia, even as it withdrew from cases in Michigan and Arizona.
Mr. Wood, Mr. Ramsland and Ms. Powell did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
President Trump and his allies have continuously amplified false and unsubstantiated claims about voting as they wage a multi-front assault on the legitimacy of the 2020 election.
A pre-election analysis from the Election Integrity Partnership found that posts from 20 Twitter accounts, including 13 verified and Mr. Trump himself, accounted for a fifth of all shares of voting-related misinformation in its database.
Of the 13 verified accounts, all but three had tweeted at least one claim of election misinformation this week.
Mr. Trump was one of the most frequent purveyors.
This week, he has falsely accused Detroit of reporting more votes than people (it did not), wrongly declared that Michigan “refused to certify the election results” (it is not scheduled to do so until Monday), claimed a “big victory” after a Nevada commission declined to verify the results of a local race (it did not affect the presidential election), and shared an image purporting to show that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. received a “dump” of more than 143,000 votes in Wisconsin a day after the election at 3:42 a.m., “when they learned he was losing badly” (Milwaukee, a Democratic stronghold, continued to count votes throughout that night).
Those four false posts alone amassed more than 370,000 retweets on Twitter, as well as 247,000 shares on Facebook, according to a New York Times tally.
The Trump allies who have also amplified false claims include Charlie Kirk, the conservative activist, who promoted misleading claims about “found ballots.” Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, raised the specter of computer “glitches” that switched votes. Chuck Callesto and Omar Navarro, who both have run unsuccessfully for Congress, amplified unsubstantiated claims of a rigged election raised by Sidney Powell, an election lawyer for Mr. Trump, which relied on dubious connections to Venezuela.
Mr. Trump’s son Eric, Benny Johnson of the conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA, and Jim Holt of the pro-Trump Gateway Pundit blog, also all shared Mr. Trump’s inaccurate tweet about the Wisconsin vote tally.
Members of Mr. Trump’s election legal team have played a role, too. Three of those lawyers — Rudolph W. Giuliani, Ms. Powell and Jenna Ellis — held a news conference on Thursday where they repeated many debunked falsehoods and unsubstantiated theories. Mr. Giuliani and Ms. Powell in particular have promoted speculative and false claims about Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic, two election software companies.
A legion of conservative media outlets, activists and lawmakers have also spread claims from the president and his aides.
Mr. Kirk, Mr. Giuliani, Ms. Powell, Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas, the conservative author Dinesh D’Souza and Emerald Robinson, a White House correspondent at Newsmax, all repeated the false claim that votes were being tabulated in Frankfurt and Barcelona.
Similarly, right-wing personalities like Sean Hannity of Fox News and Chanel Rion of One America News Network have helped spread bogus claims about Dominion and have been viewed millions of times, at least in part thanks to Mr. Trump’s promotion on Facebook and Twitter.
At a rambling news conference on Thursday, Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, mixed misleading statements, wild conspiracy theories and outright fabrications as he attempted to suggest that Mr. Trump still had a viable pathway to winning the election.
Over and over again, Mr. Giuliani and other members of the president’s legal team suggested that Mr. Trump had evidence to prove that “massive fraud” had been committed in swing states across the country. But Mr. Giuliani himself had undercut that accusation in one high-profile case, telling the federal judge overseeing a suit in Pennsylvania, “This is not a fraud case.”
Mr. Giuliani, speaking at the Republican National Committee’s headquarters in Washington, claimed that Mr. Trump would prevail in the election if only he could get his day in front of a judge.
“Give us a chance to prove it in court and we will,” he said.
The problem? In many of the instances that Mr. Giuliani mentioned, the Trump campaign has already had its chance in court — and failed.
For example, Mr. Giuliani quoted a Detroit poll worker named Jessy Jacob, who submitted an affidavit in the case Costantino v. City of Detroit. Ms. Jacob claimed that she had witnessed poll workers in Detroit, a heavily Democratic city, encouraging voters to cast their ballots for Joseph R. Biden Jr., and that while she was working at “a satellite location” she was instructed by her superiors not to ask for voters’ identification.
On Friday, however, that case was dismissed by a Michigan circuit judge, Timothy M. Kenny, who said that several of the charges it contained were “rife with speculation and guesswork.” Judge Kenny specifically addressed Ms. Jacob’s accusations, saying they were “generalized” and asserted “behavior with no date, location, frequency or names of employees.”
Mr. Giuliani also cited an affidavit in the case from Melissa Carone, a contractor for Dominion Voting Systems, to claim that trucks intended to transport food instead brought “thousands and thousands of ballots” to Detroit. But Judge Kenny had also rejected that story, saying that Ms. Carone’s description of the events at a vote counting center in Detroit “does not square with any of the other affidavits” and that her “allegations simply are not credible.”
In referring to other cases brought by the Trump campaign, Mr. Giuliani made even vaguer accusations and provided no evidence to support them. He claimed that he had more than 100 affidavits alleging voting improprieties in a federal lawsuit the campaign filed in Michigan, Donald J. Trump for President Inc. v. Benson. But the campaign’s own lawyers voluntarily dismissed that suit just hours before Mr. Giuliani held his news conference.
Mr. Giuliani further said that the Trump campaign had affidavits proving that nearly 700,000 mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania had been tainted. But no such affidavits have been filed in the campaign’s federal lawsuit in Pennsylvania that is seeking to halt the certification of the vote there. Moreover, Mr. Giuliani never mentioned the affidavits when he personally appeared at a hearing in the case on Tuesday afternoon.
Mr. Giuliani also claimed that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. admitted a few days before the election to “have the best voter fraud team in the world.” This was a reference to a deceptively edited video that spread on social media. In his original remarks, Mr. Biden was referring to efforts to protect against voter fraud.
Sidney Powell, another lawyer for Mr. Trump, baselessly warned of “massive influence of communist money through Venezuela, Cuba and likely China and the interference with our elections here in the United States.” She claimed that tabulating software used by Dominion and Smartmatic, two voting machine companies, was “created by Hugo Chavez.”
Ms. Powell cited a partially redacted affidavit from an unnamed former military official in Venezuela that accused Smartmatic of helping to rig that country’s elections. But Smartmatic did not provide technology to any battleground state in this year’s presidential election in the United States, nor has it sold any software or hardware to Dominion, which is a competitor. Electronic voting security experts told The New York Times that the affidavit contained no evidence of a rigged election in the United States.
Software made by Dominion was used to count votes in several swing states, and the company has been a target of misinformation from Mr. Trump’s allies, but there is no evidence that the software improperly changed any vote tallies.
Ms. Powell also wrongly claimed that a British baron named Mark Malloch-Brown was one of the “leaders of the Dominion project” as well as the billionaire George Soros’s “No. 2 person” in the United Kingdom. Mr. Malloch-Brown is Smartmatic’s chairman and sits on the board of Mr. Soros’s Open Society Foundations. Mr. Soros has been the target of numerous conspiracy theories propagated on the right, some of them with anti-Semitic overtones.
The Trump campaign has not yet included allegations about Dominion machines in any of its more than 30 lawsuits where the accusations would have to be proven in front of a judge.
Shortly after Mr. Giuliani’s news conference, which was carried live on Fox News, the Republican strategist Karl Rove appeared on the channel and said that Mr. Giuliani should prove his “strange” accusations in court or “withdraw” them immediately.
President Trump’s approach to challenging the election has been scattershot and contradictory, as his campaign demands that courts stop ballots from being counted in certain places while insisting that a more thorough review is necessary in other places.
Confusing as it may seem, essentially his goal is this: to get judges to invalidate the results in enough counties and states so that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s lead disappears.
Would judges ever actually do that?
They have before, though never on the scale that the president and his legal team is attempting. There are numerous examples going back hundreds of years in the United States when courts have been asked to toss out the results of elections on the local, state and federal levels. Losing candidates have prevailed for a variety of reasons: because the court determined that the count was off, or that inconsistent standards were applied in processing ballots, or even that there was voter fraud.
But these cases are the exception. And election law experts said that judges have set the bar extremely high. It’s not enough to claim — or even prove — that irregularities occurred. The irregularities have to be significant enough to change the outcome of the race, which is extraordinarily rare.
“The prevailing view today is that courts should not invalidate election results because of problems unless it is shown that the problems were of such magnitude to negate the validity of which candidate prevailed,” said Edward B. Foley, director of election law at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law. This is inherently difficult to do, he added, given how hard it is to provide evidence that disputed ballots were cast in favor of a particular candidate.
Professor Foley, whose book “Ballot Battles” provides a history of disputed elections in the United States, described one example that illustrates how difficult it will be for the president to succeed with his claims. In an election with a margin of victory of 10,000, it would not be enough to show that there were 11,000 invalid votes, he said, “because those invalid votes might have split 50-50, not making a difference to the outcome.” (In Arizona, the closest of the major swing states, Mr. Trump trails Mr. Biden by roughly 10,000 votes.)
Mr. Trump has cited cases where irregularities and fraud have led to new elections. But his most recent examples take isolated incidents of small-scale error or fraud and misleadingly apply them to a national election in which more than 150 million ballots were cast. There was the case in Paterson, N.J., earlier this year, for instance, in which a judge recommended a do-over election for a seat on the City Council after evidence surfaced that mail-in ballots had been tampered with. (Just 240 votes separated the first- and second-place candidates.)
And this week in Clark County, Nev., local officials voted to rerun one race for a county commission seat that had a margin of just 10 votes, which Mr. Trump falsely claimed as a “big victory” even though he lost the county by more than 90,000 votes.
Professor Foley traces the nation’s first major ballot-counting dispute back to Philadelphia, the site of some of the legal wrangling today. In 1781, the results of the election for Pennsylvania’s Supreme Executive Council, the state’s executive branch at the time, were contested after allegations that soldiers had been marched to the polls by their commanders and forced to vote for a particular candidate.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an opinion that laid out a standard for considering voter fraud as the grounds for overturning an election that still largely applies today: Voters should not suffer for the misdeeds of a few bad actors, the judges said. For fraud or irregularities to render an election invalid, the problems would have to be substantial. The vote was not set aside.
There have been more recent cases in which fraud rendered an election invalid. In one high-profile example, a Florida judge voided Miami’s mayoral election in 1998 and ordered a new vote, citing “a pattern of fraudulent, intentional and criminal conduct” in the casting of absentee ballots.
Mr. Trump has had no such luck in persuading judges or local elections officials. His latest setback came on Tuesday when Republican officials in Michigan’s largest county reversed their earlier votes to delay certification of the election results there. The officials tried to change their stance yet again late Wednesday, but it appeared to be too late: All counties in the state have now certified their results, showing Mr. Biden ahead by nearly 150,000 votes.
President Trump on Thursday accelerated his efforts to interfere in the nation’s electoral process, taking the extraordinary step of reaching out directly to Republican state legislators from Michigan and inviting them to the White House on Friday for discussions as the state prepares to certify President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. the winner there.
Mr. Trump’s outreach to Republican officials in Michigan represented a remarkable intrusion into state and local politics: a sitting president personally contacting officials who usually play a small and invisible role in a routine process.
The president requested the White House meeting with Mike Shirkey, the State Senate majority leader, and Lee Chatfield, the speaker of the Michigan House, and they will sit down with him on Friday afternoon, according to a person briefed on the arrangements. It is not clear what the president will discuss.
It comes as the Trump campaign and its allies have been seeking to overturn the results of the election in multiple states through lawsuits and intrusions into the state vote certification process, often targeting cities like Detroit, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Atlanta with large and politically powerful Black populations. Mr. Trump himself reached out personally to at least one election official in Wayne County, Mich., home of Detroit, who tried to decertify the results there.
At the same time, he has made few public appearances since the election and his daily schedule often has no events on it, despite the worsening coronavirus pandemic.
Some members of Mr. Trump’s team have promoted the legally dubious theory that friendly legislatures could under certain scenarios effectively subvert the popular vote and send their own, pro-Trump delegations to the Electoral College.
The Trump campaign’s lead election lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, announced Thursday morning that the campaign was withdrawing a federal suit it had filed seeking to stop the certification of results in Wayne County. The campaign attached the affidavits to the dismissal notice.
Mr. Biden won nearly 95 percent of the vote in Detroit and around 70 percent of the vote in Wayne County en route to winning Michigan by more than 150,000 votes.
With the withdrawal of the Wayne County suit, the Trump campaign and its Republican supporters have now lost or withdrawn from all of their major legal actions in Michigan, although the state’s Supreme Court is still considering an appeal of a lower court’s decision not to halt the certification of Wayne County’s results.
At a news briefing on Thursday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, a Democrat, was asked about what her message to Mr. Trump would be on his election efforts.
“Stop spending energy to mislead about what happened in this election and spend it on a real Covid relief package,” she said. “This election was overwhelmingly decided. It was a safe, it was a secure, it was a fair election, and Joe Biden won the state of Michigan by over 150,000 votes.” She added, “The canvassers need to do their job. I expect that they will do their job and certify this result.”
Sidney Powell, a lawyer on President Trump’s election legal team who represented the former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, has been a major source and promoter of viral conspiracy theories about vote switching.
Since the election, Ms. Powell has advanced claims of voluminous voter fraud and a rigged election. She falsely claimed that a supercomputer called Hammer hacked votes, that Mr. Trump won the election by “millions of votes” and that voting software company Dominion Voting Systems altered the tallies.
Last week, she promised that coming evidence would overturn the election’s results and said she would “release the Kraken,” a reference to the 1981 movie “The Clash of the Titans,” reprising a catchphrase that began trending on Twitter.
On Monday, Ms. Powell posted some of her so-called evidence on Twitter. It consisted of three screenshots of an affidavit that she said was signed by a former military official from Venezuela about elections there. The screenshots were incomplete and did not include a name or signature, and Ms. Powell did not respond to requests to view the full document.
But according to her and excerpts from the affidavit, the elections software company Smartmatic helped the Venezuelan government rig its elections by switching votes and leaving no trail. The military official said in the excerpts that the U.S. election was “eerily reminiscent” of what happened in Venezuela’s 2013 presidential election, though no evidence was provided that votes had been switched in the United States.
“This person saw, by his own experience, exactly what was happening there was happening here,” Ms. Powell explained to Fox News on Monday.
Smartmatic does not provide technology to the battleground states that sealed President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory. And electronic voting security experts said they were unimpressed with what Ms. Powell presented.
“The essence of the affidavit is that voting machines could have been hacked. This is not news,” said David Dill, a computer scientist at Stanford University and founder of the Verified Voting Foundation. “Every single vote that has been counted by computer in the U.S. in the last 50 years was counted by a computer that ‘could have been hacked.’ So far as I know, none of them actually were.”
Dan Wallach, a professor of computer science at Rice University and an expert on electronic voting system security, said: “If this class of attack was happening, the odds of it going undetected is quite low. So far, we have no evidence suggesting an abnormal number of spoiled ballots.”
Previous claims that Smartmatic’s voting machines were rigged in Venezuela have been disputed and are “unsubstantiated,” according to The Associated Press. It’s worth noting that Smartmatic accused the Venezuelan government of election fraud in 2017, pointing out that its machines were used when the opposition party won a majority in the country’s National Assembly in 2015.
The excerpts from Ms. Powell also included numerous inaccurate claims to imply a similarity between Venezuela’s elections and the U.S. election, chiefly drawing dubious parallels between Smartmatic and Dominion, which was used in several key states. Ms. Powell took the claims one step further, telling the right-wing media company Newsmax that Venezuela’s vote counting system was then “exported” to the United States.
The official she cited also said that Dominion’s system was “a descendant” of Smartmatic’s system, that they “did business together” and that Mr. Biden had overtaken Mr. Trump only when “vote counting was stopped.”
Smartmatic and Dominion have denied any exchange of technology and maintain that they are competitors. Dominion bought assets from a company three years after Smartmatic sold the company. And Mr. Biden overtook Mr. Trump in Pennsylvania and Georgia after days of consistent counting, while maintaining a lead in Arizona that narrowed as tallying continued.
The official also claimed to Ms. Powell that voting machines display and print out a paper ballot showing the results the voter intended, while the software itself “changes the information electronically.” But Dominion’s system does not work like that.
“The process that we see happening in Georgia and elsewhere that use similar ‘ballot marking device’ systems,” Mr. Wallach said, “is that the voter selects their choices with a computer of some sort, which then prints their ballot. The voter then typically carries that ballot to a ballot box, often with a scanner on top, and deposits the ballot.”
Any difference or attack on the tabulation system would be caught in postelection recounts, and “so far, none of them have caught anything other than human errors in the tabulation process, such as forgetting to load a memory card,” he said.
Mr. Dill said: “Courts demand strong evidence to overturn an election. From that perspective, this affidavit does not help make a case.”
Last week, the Trump campaign published a series of posts on Facebook and Twitter identifying dead Americans whose names, the campaign alleged, were used to cast votes in this month’s election. The seven people were from Georgia and Pennsylvania, two battleground states that were crucial to Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory.
At least three of them, however, either did not actually vote in the election or were alive and well and cast legal votes, according to state and county election officials.
The name that spread the most online was Deborah Jean Christiansen of Roswell, Ga. On Facebook, 166 posts mentioning her name as proof of voter fraud collected over 280,000 likes, shares and comments from last Wednesday through Sunday, according to CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned social media analytics tool. The vast majority of that activity came from a video post from the account for “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” the Fox News show. The post, “Yes, Dead People Did Vote in the Election,” generated 2.5 million views on Facebook.
But Ms. Christiansen did not vote, according to election officials.
“We don’t have a record of a new voter registration, and we don’t have a record of a ballot being sent to this person,” Jessica Corbitt, a spokeswoman for Fulton County in Georgia, said in an interview. “We have her in the system as deceased.”
Some news outlets, like CNN and Agence France-Presse, reported that there was no fraud in Ms. Christiansen’s case. But each of the posts generated far fewer shares and interactions than the posts containing the false information, according to CrowdTangle data.
The Trump campaign also argued that James E. Blalock Jr. of Covington, Ga., and Linda Kesler of Nicholson, Ga., had voted fraudulently. But county election officials told The New York Times that the two people had been correctly marked as deceased and did not vote. Mrs. James E. Blalock Jr., the widow of Mr. Blalock, and a Lynda Kesler with a different address, birthday and Social Security number, voted legally, the officials said.
The Trump campaign’s original posts about Mr. Blalock and Mrs. Kesler collected 26,600 likes and shares on Facebook, according to CrowdTangle data, while a report from a local news outlet correcting the claim collected just 10,100.
The post about Mr. Blalock was eventually deleted on Twitter but remains up on Facebook. On Friday, Mr. Carlson apologized on air for his erroneous reporting in the case of Mr. Blalock.
“On Friday, we began to learn some of the specific dead voters reported to us as deceased are in fact alive,” Mr. Carlson said in a statement on Tuesday evening. “We initially corrected this on Friday. We regret not catching it earlier. But the truth remains: Dead people voted in the election.”
The other four people the Trump campaign held up are from Trenton, Ga., and Drexel Hill, South Park and Allentown, Pa. Local election officials said they were still investigating those allegations.
The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.