State officials say they're baffled, offended by false election claims

ARIELLE MITROPOULOS and WILL MCDUFFIE
·7 min read

For many of the officials who helped guide the nation through a 2020 presidential election that saw record turnout in the midst of a deadly pandemic, the past two weeks of protests and cries of voter fraud have been both baffling and frustrating.

"We're rather offended because we know how hard we worked to conduct free and fair elections and follow Florida law," said Jennifer Edwards, the supervisor of elections in Collier County, Florida.

Edwards described carrying off an election with the highest turnout for any county in Florida -- over 90% of registered voters there cast ballots -- and she said there were no reported incidents of voter fraud.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon told ABC News the allegations are "an insult to the tens of thousands of people who worked very hard to administer an election."

MORE: A look at 5 false or misleading Trump team claims of election fraud

"We know of no incidents or even allegations that any vote was counted that shouldn't have or any vote didn't count when it should have," Simon said.

These officials and dozens of others reached by ABC News uniformly described the election as clean. Regardless of their party affiliation, not one of the officials reached in 46 states and the District of Columbia reported having found evidence of significant fraud or irregularities that would have marred or reshaped the presidential race. Four states, Indiana, Montana, New York, and Texas, did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

"All of our processes and procedures were open and transparent, and we are confident any review of the election will reveal that," Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg told ABC News.

Gabe Rosenberg, an attorney with the Connecticut secretary of state office, called the Nov. 3 contest "one of the smoothest elections" the state has ever run.

A hunt for fraud

The confidence expressed by election officials comes in spite of a robust effort by allies of President Donald Trump to find and expose examples of fraud. In Texas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick offered to "pay up to $1 million to incentivize, encourage and reward people to come forward and report voter fraud." Patrick said that anyone who provides information that leads to an arrest and final conviction of voter fraud would be paid a minimum of $25,000. The conservative nonprofit True the Vote, a Houston-based conservative advocacy group, which says it is dedicated to “securing” American elections, set up a hotline and claimed to have a $1 million fund to pay "whistleblowers" with information about fraud to step forward.

The efforts come as Trump has repeatedly claimed that the Democrats were "trying to steal the election" from him, unleashing a deluge of unsubstantiated accusations of rampant electoral fraud, rigged software, and ballot conspiracies, particularly in the states that President-elect Joe Biden successfully flipped from Republican to Democratic.

PHOTO: The election official Pam Hainault works in the ballot room organizing unused ballots returned from voting precincts after Election Day at the Kenosha Municipal Building in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Nov. 4, 2020. (Daniel Acker/Reuters, FILE)
PHOTO: The election official Pam Hainault works in the ballot room organizing unused ballots returned from voting precincts after Election Day at the Kenosha Municipal Building in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Nov. 4, 2020. (Daniel Acker/Reuters, FILE)

One repeated area of concern raised by Trump and his allies is the way the results came in. "We were winning in all the key locations by a lot, actually. And then our number started miraculously getting whittled away in secret," Trump told reporters during press conference on November 5 as his early lead began slipping.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said that when the results on election night say one thing and then the results change over the ensuing days, "that's not a sign that something nefarious is happening."

"In fact, quite the contrary," LaRose said. "It's a sign that the legal process is being allowed to play itself out so that every legally cast vote can be tabulated. That's exactly what we need to do."

MORE: Election 2020: A look at Trump campaign election lawsuits and where they stand

In highly contested Pennsylvania, Jacklin Rhoads, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, told ABC News that the election, overseen by bipartisan officials, was safe and fair.

"Many of the claims against the Commonwealth have already been dismissed, and repeating these false attacks is reckless," Rhoads said. "No active lawsuit even alleges, and no evidence presented so far has shown, widespread problems."

Voter fraud is typically rare and isolated

Actual voter fraud, which implies that someone is intentionally casting a vote illegally -- like by voting twice or in another person's name -- is rare in the United States, according to experts.

David Schultz, a national expert on election law, and professor at Hamline University, previously told ABC News that the number of cases of proven voter fraud is infinitesimal.

"There is absolutely no evidence that shows that voter fraud is so widespread that it has changed the outcome of any election in the United States," Schultz said.

PHOTO: Cobb County Election officials handle ballots during an audit, Nov. 16, 2020, in Marietta, Ga.  (Mike Stewart/AP)
PHOTO: Cobb County Election officials handle ballots during an audit, Nov. 16, 2020, in Marietta, Ga. (Mike Stewart/AP)

That does not mean elections are free of any problems. In Idaho, election officials said there were initially nine cases of possible election fraud, one of which has already been resolved as a misunderstanding. But there was nothing to suggest an organized attempt to steal the election.

In North Carolina, officials were looking into 33 complaints of irregularities, said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections. These, too, were isolated.

"There is, I believe, one case of voter impersonation that we'll look into," she said. "This is on par with other elections … a small number of complaints, in the midst of five and a half million votes that were cast."

MORE: Federal prosecutors express concern over Attorney General William Barr's election fraud memo: Sources

Nebraska and Pennsylvania each reported only a single case of possible fraud, and officials in both states said they are still being investigated. In Maine, state officials filed a criminal complaint against a 19-year-old woman for violating election laws by submitting a former roommate's absentee ballot. The infraction was discovered before any ballot was processed.

Some confusion may stem from a misunderstanding of what voter fraud means, said Kristen Schulze Muszynski, spokeswoman for Maine's secretary of state.

"That can be frustrating for our office, as we depend on the public's confidence in the integrity of the election to ensure that all eligible voters have faith in the value of their participation, upon which our system of governance depends," she said.

Experts offer election clean bill of health

On Thursday, two leading election organizations -- the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council, a team of federal and state election officials working under the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency at DHS, and the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Executive Committees, which works to advance the physical security, cybersecurity, and emergency preparedness of the nation’s election infrastructure -- issued a joint statement vouching for the integrity of the election.

According to the joint statement, "the November 3 election was the most secure in American history," adding in boldface type: "There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised."

PHOTO: Gwinnett County election workers handle ballots as part of the recount for the 2020 presidential election at the Beauty P. Baldwin Voter Registrations and Elections Building, Nov. 16, 2020, in Lawrenceville, Georgia. (Megan Varner/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Gwinnett County election workers handle ballots as part of the recount for the 2020 presidential election at the Beauty P. Baldwin Voter Registrations and Elections Building, Nov. 16, 2020, in Lawrenceville, Georgia. (Megan Varner/Getty Images)

Also last week, the government's top cybersecurity official, Chris Krebs, director of the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), retweeted a post from election law expert David Becker, warning, "Please don't retweet wild and baseless claims about voting machines, even if they're made by the president."

"I think that anyone involved in election administration knows that those claims are absolutely absurd," said Connecticut Secretary of the State's General Counsel Gabe Rosenberg.

Officials continue to weather complaints

The accusations of voter fraud have created an unexpected aftermath for many election officials, who generally expressed pride at having administered an election with record turnout and few hiccups.

In the Idaho Secretary of State's Office, officials said they had no problem investigating allegations of voter misconduct, calling it simply part of the job.

MORE: Could recounts and lawsuits help Trump flip the election?: Reality check

"I want to be clear that these cases are not taking any kind of toll on me or the staff here," a spokesman told ABC News. "Looking into possible cases of election fraud is one of the things we are here to do."

In other states, election workers have had to withstand an angry outpouring from voters who are harboring doubts about the outcome.

"I've watched one of our intake team members be in tears because someone called up and was so hateful to her," said Karen Brinson Bell of the North Carolina Board of Elections. "She's just there to help folks."

State officials say they're baffled, offended by false election claims originally appeared on abcnews.go.com