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Analysis: Why Trump May Have A Hard Time Claiming Ohio Election Is Rigged

donald trump
Andrew Harnik
President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House, Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, before leaving for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md., and then onto Ohio for rallies.

Four years ago, Ohio made Donald Trump very happy by handing him its 18 electoral votes. This year, Ohio has the potential to make him very unhappy by taking them back.

With Trump threatening to contest elections in battleground states where it will take weeks to count all the absentee ballots, claiming – with no substantiation – that massive fraud is going on with mail-in votes, Ohio is in a position to possibly avoid the madness.

Ohio, on election night and in the days that follow, could stop Trump's conspiracy theory dead in its tracks.

It all depends on Ohio flipping from a red state for Trump in 2016 to a blue state for Joe Biden in 2020.

And, even though Trump won Ohio by a fairly comfortable eight percentage points the last time around, a Biden win is entirely possible – if the Biden/Harris campaign and their allies begin pouring large amounts of money into Ohio right now.

Nearly every poll of Ohio voters done in September shows a statistical dead heat or a slight Biden lead.

The reason Ohio could blow up Trump's challenge based on massive voter fraud is that Ohio has a different way of counting absentee ballots as compared to most of the battleground states.

Here's why:

  • At 7:30 p.m. on Election Day, boards of elections in all of Ohio's 88 counties will first do a count of the absentee mail-in ballots they have received by Nov. 3, along with all of the in-person voting at the board offices from the 28 days prior to the election.
  • Those absentee ballots – a record number of them in nearly every county in the state – are much more likely to be cast by Democrats than Republicans and will likely favor Biden. The same goes for the in-person early votes – predominately Democratic.
  • Then the county election officials will begin counting the Election Day ballots from the polling places. There's a good chance those might help Trump catch up.
  • After the election night count, each county will report on how many absentee ballots are still out there making their way to board offices via the U.S. Mail. If they are postmarked by Nov. 2 and arrive by Nov. 13, they will be counted – unless they have some other fatal flaw, such as not being signed.

After that, the boards of elections can start counting the late arriving ballots and must complete their vote count by Nov. 24 – three weeks after Election Day.
Trump made it clear at a rally in Virginia last week that he will not go quietly and might contest the results in several key states if he loses the official count.

"I could be leading, and they'll just keep getting ballots and ballots and ballots and ballots,'' Trump said. "They're talking about five, six, seven states that have this problem. So if we are waiting for one state, does that mean the whole nation, the whole world, is going to wait for one state?"

Here's the difference between Ohio and the other states that will be counting absentee mail-in ballots weeks after Election Day. Ohio will count all the ones they have on election night. The mail-in ballots that come in after Election Day will be a relatively small portion of the overall amount.

"We are about the least confusing of the states as far as vote-counting is concerned,'' said David Pepper, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party.

Plus, new this year, you can go to the Secretary of State's website and see for yourself the number of outstanding absentee ballots and whether they have the potential to flip Ohio from Biden to Trump, or vice versa.

"The number of absentee ballots is a knowable number," LaRose said on a recent Cincinnati Edition. "Now it's never been highlighted before, but this year we've redesigned our website so right there at the top it's going to highlight that number of outstanding absentee ballots."

He used this example: "Say there's a candidate that's leading by a million votes in the presidential contest and there's only 200,000 outstanding absentee ballots. Well, at that point you could say numerically that that's probably a done deal. But if there's a candidate that's only ahead by 100,000 votes and there are 200,000 outstanding absentee ballots, well, then, by definition, that contest is too close to call."

So it matters if the Biden campaign is able to build a strong lead over the next five weeks and win convincingly in Ohio, and that's going to take a lot of money. But the Trump campaign has done them a favor already by moving a lot of its limited cash to Florida, a must-win state for Trump.

Trump's campaign is worried sick over former New York mayor and presidential contender Michael Bloomberg, one of the wealthiest people in America, making a $100 million investment into anti-Trump ads and organizations in Florida.

Pepper said the Biden campaign needs to jump on the void left by Trump shifting money to Florida and spend money in Ohio.

The candidate, too, must spend more time in Ohio, Pepper said.

The train trip through eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania that Biden embarks on today, hot on the heels of the first presidential debate Tuesday night in Cleveland, "is a really good sign,'' Pepper said.

Trump's plans to contest election results if they aren't in his favor depends on delays and confusion in the vote count in key states. Ohio, Pepper said, can avoid all of that.

"We can end the drama before it starts," Pepper said.

If you combine the fact that a majority of absentee ballots will be counted on election night with the fact that Ohio's election is run by a Republican, Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who mailed absentee ballot applications to all Ohio voters but not the ballots themselves – something that Trump regularly claims is fraudulent – would leave Trump little to complain about if he ends up trailing Biden.

He'd have a hard time claiming Ohio's election is rigged.

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Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

Read more "Politically Speaking" here.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.