With ballots still uncounted in crucial Democratic strongholds and Joe Biden’s path to victory appearing significantly clearer on Wednesday morning, Donald Trump’s right-wing media allies wasted no time at all in backing his claim that counting all the votes was somehow cheating.
It’s a scenario election-monitors have warned of for months: The results of Tuesday’s nail-biter remain uncertain on Wednesday, with large swaths of mail-in ballots still uncounted in critical areas like Philadelphia and Detroit. Despite that, President Trump declared victory in an early-morning announcement, threatening to call on a Supreme Court dominated by conservatives to stop remaining votes from being counted. Trump also took to Twitter in a since-flagged post, baselessly accusing Democrats of “trying to STEAL the Election.”
The remark served as a growing rallying cry among a far-right audience that, for months, has been primed—by Trump, and by the most compartmentalized media apparatus imaginable—to cry fraud over any result besides a Trump victory.
When Michigan and Wisconsin released more results Wednesday morning, Benny Johnson, a staffer for the young conservative group Turning Point USA, tweeted to his 360,000 followers that “at 6 AM this morning Joe Biden magically gained +100K votes in Wisconsin and Michigan!?!?! There is zero explanation for this. What is happening? This is INSANE!”
This was neither magic nor insane, but the results of those states counting legally cast ballots. And election officials have long cautioned that the full vote count might take days, as it has in many past contests. Multiple states say they will announce new batches of results at regular intervals as ballot-counting continues.
The reality of the situation didn’t stop other right-wing figures and platforms from trying similar tactics to cast doubt on emerging votes, often describing counting as “magic.”
“So while everyone was asleep and after everyone went home, Democrats in Michigan magically found a trove of 138,339 votes, and all 138,339 of those ‘votes’ magically went to Biden? That doesn't look suspicious at all,” the founder of the right-wing publication The Federalist wrote in a tweet that Twitter labeled with a warning that “some or all of the content shared in this Tweet is disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic process.” Nevertheless, other prominent Trump supporters, like Candace Owens (2.7 million followers) shared the tweet with allegations that Democrats were trying to “cheat.”
Trump, himself, joined in the “magic” grousing, tweeting on Wednesday morning that “Last night I was leading, often solidly, in many key States, in almost all instances Democrat run & controlled. Then, one by one, they started to magically disappear as surprise ballot dumps were counted. VERY STRANGE, and the “pollsters” got it completely & historically wrong!” (Twitter flagged the tweet as containing content that "is disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic process.")
Talk radio host and former Trump White House adviser Sebastian Gorka tweeted, “It’s called Election Day. NOT Election Days” and claimed Biden was “stealing” battleground states from Trump. White House reporter at the right-wing publication Newsmax Emerald Robinson told her Twitter followers to prepare for “fake ballots.”
As election monitors have long predicted, late-coming votes in some states are likely to favor Biden. Many of those votes are mail-in ballots, cast by a set of voters who leaned toward Biden, especially in major cities. In Pennsylvania and some other states, officials could not begin counting mail-in ballots until Election Day, with several Pennsylvania counties saying they would not begin processing those ballots until Wednesday.
On the messaging platform Telegram, some far-right election channels used the sudden surge in Biden votes to suggest chicanery, rather than long-forecast votes coming home to roost. One characteristic example, from a channel with nearly 9,000 followers, was a post alleging voter fraud below a meme of an armed man in neo-Nazi attire.
Not to be outdone, the extremist-friendly social media platform Gab invoked a military insurgency, sending out a morning email blast with the headline “President Trump Declares Victory, Stop The Coup!”
Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich claimed that Philadelphia, where enough mail ballots were outstanding in the city and suburbs to potentially swing the state to Biden, a “center of vote theft” and called for a Senate investigation into the vote counting.
“This looks like a setup to steal the presidency by the Democrats,” Gingrich said.
Matt Schlapp, the head of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), tweeted a picture of himself at the “Brooks Brothers riot”—a (violent) Republican effort to shut down the Florida vote count in 2000. Schlapp added the hashtag “#Stopthesteal,” which has become an organizing hashtag for Republicans claiming the election is being stolen from Trump.
A heavy-hitter in the early-going of election falsehoods, Schlapp also indulged in a far-right freakout over the idea that people who used Sharpie pens were somehow seeing their ballots invalidated in Arizona. That Twitter-spread fiction was promptly dispelled by election officials.
Marjorie Greene, a Georgian who was elected to Congress on Tuesday despite her support for the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory, also tweeted the slogan Wednesday morning. She accused a Democratic Senate candidate from her state as being involved in a “coup,” wanting “BLM/ANTIFA terrorists [to] show up at your door,” and that supporters needed to “stop the steal.”
Republicans have previously indicated an interest in discarding—or at least casting serious doubt on—the results of anything but same-day, in-person voting, especially in cities. A Republican court challenge in Harris County, Texas, attempted to discard more than 100,000 ballots cast in drive-in voting. (Harris County leans Democratic and represented one of the best chances of flipping the state blue, though it ultimately went Trump’s way.)
That challenge, as well as a Republican effort to stop the counting of mail-in ballots received after Election Day in Pennsylvania, was blocked. Trump’s campaign has previously suggested they will take up that Pennsylvania case with the Supreme Court.