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Fact check: Stefanik speech had both true, false election complaints

In this image from video, Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., speaks as the House reconvenes to debate the objection to confirm the Electoral College vote from Arizona, after protesters stormed into the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6. (House Television via AP)

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik explained why she objected to electors from four states the in a speech on the House floor Wednesday night.

The irregularities alleged in her speech and a press release included some falsehoods and omissions, but also some true statements.

This came after the Electoral College vote was interrupted by a violent occupation of the Capitol building by pro-Donald Trump rioters who demanded Congress “stop the steal,” a common Trump phrase since the Nov. 3 election won by Joe Biden.

Stefanik said voting irregularities in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan led to her objections. She said she hopes that further investigation would allow Americans to have greater faith in elections.

Three of her statements on irregularities were mentioned in the New York Times’ live fact-checking of the session, and all were deemed “false.”

Trump, his family and his political circle have alleged voter fraud and irregularities long before the November election, spending the past few years leading up to this election casting doubt on the electoral process and telling supporters to look for evidence to support their claims. Trump had said before the election that he might not accept the results if he lost.

Trump has pitched a myriad of allegations of voter fraud and election stealing on the part of Democrats. While some constitute legitimate critique, most have been based on a lack of understanding of data, unverifiable accounts and deliberate misinformation.

Stefanik said several of these irregularities were “unconstitutional.” Most of them are legal through state law, which in some cases was changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and verified by state election officials and each state’s electors.

Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, Stefanik said the state Supreme Court and secretary of state rewrote election law eliminating signature matching requirements. She said making this change without the state legislature was “unconstitutional.”

The action described is true. Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruled that mail-in ballot envelopes require a voter’s signature but do not require that signature to be matched.

However, case law has set precedent for the constitutionality of the executive branch to change state election law and for the courts to interpret it.

Next, Stefanik wrote “they arbitrarily allowed late arriving ballots to be counted even though doing so explicitly ignored and broke state election law.”

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court decided in September to let the state accept mail-in ballots received up to three days after Nov. 3 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, high rates of main-in voting and concerns over whether the U.S. Postal Service could deliver ballots on time.

“And duly credentialed election observers were not allowed to observe voting and the counting of the vote — another unconstitutional act,” Stefanik wrote.

This is not true. Poll watchers were allowed to watch the processing of mail-in ballots, according to a court complaint from the Trump campaign. However, they were not close enough to see the writing on the ballots, which witnesses complained about. The state Supreme Court has ruled that poll watchers do not need to be close enough to see writing and stated that their view was “sufficient” in the 2020 election.

Georgia

In Georgia, Stefanik said the secretary of state “unilaterally gutted signature matching for absentee ballots and in essence eliminated voter verification required by state election law.”

This is false. Georgia required two signatures for absentee ballots. One given with a request for a ballot is compared to voter registration signatures. Another signature on the outside of the ballot envelope is then checked against both the absentee ballot application and voter registration.

This is a process Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows witnessed on Dec. 22 when he visited an audit site in Cobb County, Georgia, where 35 Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents and 15 state elections investigators conducted a 10% sample audit of ballots

“In addition, more than 140,000 votes came from underage, deceased and otherwise unauthorized voters — in Fulton County alone,” Stefanik wrote.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said after investigation, only two illegal votes from dead people have been confirmed by the state. The Trump campaign alleged specific cases of dead voters in November, only for it to be revealed that these were several instances of two people sharing the same name, one dead and the other alive and voting.

State officials said they are investigating 74 potential felons who may have voted and three cases where someone voted in Georgia and another state. State officials said no unregistered or underage people voted. Four individuals requested a ballot before turning 18, but all four turned 18 before Election Day.

Trump called Raffensperger Jan. 2 and in an hour-long harangue asked him to “find 11,780 votes” and threatening him with criminal prosecution, which legal experts say may constitute election fraud or extortion.

Stefanik has not answered questions about this call.

Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, Stefanik said state officials circumvented a state law that required absentee voters to provide photo identification before obtaining a ballot.

“Wisconsin’s very own Supreme Court reprimanded the officials for issuing ‘legally incorrect’ guidance,” Stefanik wrote. That is true.

Wisconsin election law requires photo ID with exceptions for voters “indefinitely confined” by illness or disability. These voters are verified by signatures on their ballots. The definition of “indefinitely confined” was expanded this year because of the coronavirus.

In March a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling indeed found that this expansion was “legally incorrect.”

“It is also a fact that Wisconsin state law specifies absentee ballots may only be returned by mail or delivered in person to the clerk’s office — but the City of Madison illegally held events at multiple locations to collect more than 17,000 ballots anyway,” Stefanik wrote.

This citywide “Democracy in the Park” event was objected to by the Trump campaign but was upheld in state Supreme Court, with the majority opinion judges saying to invalidate these ballots would “disenfranchise” voters.

Michigan

In Michigan, Stefanik said “many individuals signed affidavits documenting the unconstitutional irregularities they witnessed.” These allegations included officials physically blocking poll watchers from observing vote counts, the counting of late ballots and hand-stamping ballots with the previous day’s date.

Signed affidavits are presented as evidence in courts where they are considered by judges and juries. Many of these affidavits Trump’s legal team presented were not admissible in court because they relied on secondhand allegations, also known as hearsay. Some were not admissible because the individual had relied on miscalculations for their allegation, such as the case of a man who though a mathematical error believed the city of Detroit had a 139.29% turnout.

Though lying on a sworn affidavit is a crime, it is hard to prove as false in cases of hearsay or misunderstanding. So these individuals are unlikely to be charged.

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