Fringe right-wing pundits have been falsely claiming for nearly a year that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump by a conspiracy aimed at fabricating mail-in votes for President Joe Biden. Now, the same pundits have started to go the opposite route, with emerging claims that “unknown” votes are missing from the election returns.
This theory was published last Thursday on The Ohio Star, part of John Fredericks' far-right Star News Network, in a post titled “Report: ‘Unknown’ Ballots in Georgia, Pennsylvania Surpass Biden’s Margin of Victory There.” The claims were advanced by former Trump “election integrity” commission member and 2020 election propagandist J. Christian Adams, who was quoted in the Ohio Star post saying it was a “coin flip” whether those votes would have gone to Biden or Trump.
So what exactly are these “unknown” ballots? Simply put, it is a new buzzword for mail-in ballots that were sent out but never returned.
First off, there is an obvious hypocrisy here when one considers all the effort that conservatives put into insisting that absentee ballots received after Election Day not be counted last year. In addition, the well-known fact that Democratic voters had become more interested than Republicans in the mail-in system during the COVID-19 pandemic — perhaps due to Democratic voters having also taken the pandemic more seriously — would also tend to make the marginal additions of any new mail-in votes something other than a “coin flip.”
The bottom line is, while Adams claimed that the swing states were “losing track of more ballots” than the margins of victory, he cannot produce any evidence that such filled-out ballots even exist.
One also has to remember Trump’s campaign strategy in 2020 of attacking mail-in voting as “rigged,” telling his supporters to turn out in person on Election Day, and then attempting to declare victory on election night and demanding that the U.S. Supreme Court shut down the counting of mail-in votes. Following that failed gambit, Trump as well as his attorneys Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman variously alleged that there had been more ballots filled out and counted than actual voters who had filled them out, in a plot to make up the gap from Trump’s early leads from just the election night counting.
But as the tales of supposedly fake mail-in ballots become more and more tired, right-wing forces have apparently begun shifting their rhetorical gears. On last Friday’s edition of One America News’ The Real Story with Natalie Harp, for example, the host railed against “the 14.7 million number of mail-in ballots in 2020 still unable to be tracked nationwide.”
Harp then spoke with Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA), who is running for Georgia aecretary of state. The congressman bemoaned the “217,000 unknown ballots” in the Peach State.
Keep in mind, Harp has previously hyped false reports that tens of thousands of extra absentee ballots were received in Arizona and has claimed that “there were a lot of dead people that voted in the last election.” (There was no widespread fraud in 2020, despite right-wing efforts to magnify various false claims such as dead people voting.) And just recently, Harp demagogued against a program in California that allows disabled people to print out their own ballot from home. Now, she is trying to raise suspicions that not enough of these mail-in votes have been accounted for.
Similarly, Real America’s Voice host David Brody also promoted the “unknown ballots” on Monday’s edition of his show The Water Cooler, then melodramatically repeated a claim by correspondent Heather Mullins that the ballots “are somewhere out there, and officials don’t know where they went.” Brody and Mullins then transitioned back to allegations of ballot dropboxes in Georgia having been stuffed.
Back in June, Brody interviewed Trump, and the former president claimed that there had been “more votes than you have voters” in various states. In another interview, Trump spokesperson Liz Harrington spelled out the ballot-stuffing theories: “We know what happened. We saw it before our very eyes. President Trump was winning this election in a landslide. And what did they do? They shut it down, they delayed it. … And they knew what they were doing. They delayed the count so they could figure out how many votes they needed.”
It is only a matter of time, perhaps, before we start to hear more about this conspiracy theory that while Trump was seemingly ahead on election night, the result was then stolen away from him by somehow not counting more votes.