President Donald Trump’s baseless attacks on voting by mail are being broadcast on local television stations in dozens of states through reports by Sinclair Broadcast Group national correspondent Kristine Frazao. In a recent segment, Frazao barely pushed back against Trump’s lies and failed to give viewers accurate information about mail-in voting, which is already the primary method of voting in five states and is growing in popularity as other states seeks ways to implement it due to dangers of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In a report that aired last week on at least 37 Sinclair-owned or -operated stations in 34 states, according to a transcript search of the Kinetiq video database, Frazao pushed two baseless claims from Trump and one from Hans von Spakovsky of the conservative Heritage Foundation attacking the safety and reliability of voting by mail as the coronavirus pandemic continues. (Von Spakovsky has his own history of lies about voter fraud and served on Trump’s failed voter fraud commission.) The segment included one Trump statement from May in which he said, “When you do all mail-in voting, ballots, you’re asking for fraud. People steal them out of mailboxes. People print them and then they sign them, and they give them in." Frazao followed the statement by showing a tweet in which Trump wrote that “millions of mail-in ballots will be printed by foreign countries and others. ... It will be the scandal of our times.” Von Spakovsky was later shown agreeing with Trump, saying mail-in ballots are “susceptible to being stolen, forged, [or] altered.”
Frazao’s only pushback on these claims was to mention that election officials can check the signature affixed to the envelope of mailed-in ballots against the signature on file for that voter.
Frazao’s fact-checking was so inadequate that at least one local news anchor, at Sinclair-owned KMPH in Fresno, California, more thoroughly explained the security features of mail-in voting after airing her report. The anchor also pushed back against Trump’s outrageous claim of foreign governments printing ballots -- providing important and necessary context for viewers which Frazao failed to do.
It's a theory that Attorney General William Barr floated this month in an interview with The New York Times, and it's one that election officials and experts have called “preposterous" and “false."
“Election officials spend a great deal of our time building in security measures," said Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican. “The idea that people could print millions of ballots either within the country or external to the country, just on its face, is not going to pass muster with an election official."
Jennifer Morrell, an elections consultant and former local elections official in Utah and Colorado, told NPR that for such a plot to work just for a single ballot, an adversary would need to mimic everything perfectly from the ballot's size, style and even the weight of the paper to the envelope it's mailed in — all of which often changes every election cycle and differs from county to county.
“Ballots are built unique for each election. Each jurisdiction will normally have dozens to hundreds of unique ballot styles. Proofs for each ballot style are reviewed and tested to ensure the ballot scanners will read those ballots and only those ballots," Morrell said. “Even ballots created on that system from a previous election cannot be read."
In all, Morrell listed dozens of unique aspects that the adversary would have to copy perfectly, in addition to lining up the ballot with an actual voter in a registration system and faking a signature that aligned with the signature on file for the voter.
“You would need to replicate all of these elements exactly and do it for the 10,000-plus jurisdictions and hundreds of thousands of unique ballot styles within the U.S.," she said.
Additionally, Frazao shouldn’t have uncritically featured von Spakovsky to comment on the safety of mail-in voting.
To put it simply, von Spakovsky is opposed to voting rights for many people. He has claimed that the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited racial discrimination against voters, is unconstitutional. He has pushed for restrictive voting laws based on flimsy or nonexistent evidence, and he also lied about their suppressive impact on voter participation. He co-wrote a book attempting to gin up fears about stolen elections and widespread voter fraud by making use of cherry-picked examples, falsehoods, and baseless allegations. And he has also expressed support for states purging hundreds of thousands of voters from their voter rolls.
This report isn’t the first time Frazao has spread Trump’s baseless attacks against mail-in voting during this election cycle. In another Sinclair report, which aired April 7-8 on at least 35 stations in 30 states, she included a quote from Trump saying, “I think a lot of people cheat with mail-in voting.”
Instead of pushing Trump’s baseless lies on mail-in voting next time, Frazao could cover the reports that Trump and at least one member of his administration have possibly committed voter registration fraud or potentially even voted illegally. She should also mention that Trump and many senior members of his administration and campaign routinely vote by mail. All of this information, which Frazao excluded from her reporting on mail-in voting, is crucial for Sinclair’s audience to evaluate the president’s claims.