Fact-checking Trump’s false claims on unsolicited ballots

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This month, he has repeatedly claimed that 80 million unsolicited ballots are en-route to voters across the country who didn’t request them and further suggested there’s no way to track mail-in ballots or know who gets them.

Since the start of September alone, the President has mentioned these 80 million ballots at least 20 times, according to the website Factba.se, which tracks every word uttered or tweeted by Trump and other politicians. Though the rhetoric varies slightly from time to time, this claim has become part of his regular arsenal.
During a rally in Nevada over the weekend, he said, “They send 80 million ballots out. Where are they going? Who are they sending them to?”
Earlier that week, he tweeted, “Sending out 80 MILLION BALLOTS to people who aren’t even asking for a Ballot is unfair and a total fraud in the making.”
And in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity the day before, Trump said “we are sending out 80 million ballots. And they are unsolicited.”

Facts First: While some sources estimate there will be around 80 million ballots submitted by mail this year, the President is wrong to suggest that they are all somehow unsolicited. In 41 of 50 states, voters have to request their ballot by mail before being sent one, with only a handful of states automatically sending mail-in ballots to all registered voters.

It’s possible the President got the number from an August New York Times article, which stated that experts predict “roughly 80 million mail ballots will flood election offices this fall.” However, not all of these ballots would be the result of voters receiving unsolicited ballots in the mail.
For this election, 35 states, approximately 2/3 of the country, allow voters the option to vote absentee either because of coronavirus or without an excuse. In six states, voters must still provide an acceptable excuse, which does not include the pandemic, in order to vote by mail. These mail-in ballots, which make up part of the estimated 80 million total, are not unsolicited.
What the President is likely referring to when he voices concerns about unsolicited ballots are the nine states where every registered voter will receive a ballot in the mail for the upcoming election. However, five of those states (Colorado, Oregon, Utah, Hawaii and Washington) have been holding their elections primarily by mail since before the pandemic, so voters who register in these states do so knowing they’ll likely submit their ballot by mail. The four remaining states (California, Vermont, Nevada, and New Jersey) plus Washington DC switched this year — so, voters there who were already registered didn’t actively request a mail-in ballot for this election.
Those nine states and Washington, DC, which is also mailing ballots directly, account for over 43 million voters as of mid-August. The five places that changed their policies for this election to send ballots to all voters — DC, California, Vermont, Nevada and New Jersey — have at least 29 million registered voters by the latest available count. Based on this data, the number of truly unsolicited ballots sent out is at most, around half of what the President claims, and likely even less.
It’s also worth noting that even in the unsolicited instances, states have safeguards in place to prevent the kind of fraud Trump implies will result from the projected increase in voting by mail this election.

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to clarify which states have made changes to their mail-in voting policy this year.

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