The 2020 election unfolded smoothly across the country and without any widespread irregularities, according to state officials and election experts, in contrast to the claims of fraud being leveled by President Donald Trump.
Election experts said the large increase in advance voting — 107 million people voting early in person and by mail — helped take pressure off Election Day operations. There were also no incidents of violence at the polls or voter intimidation.
“The 2020 general election was one of the smoothest and most well-run elections that we have ever seen, and that is remarkable considering all the challenges,” said Ben Hovland, a Democrat appointed by Trump to serve on the Election Assistance Commission, which works closely with officials on election administration.
Following Democrat Joe Biden’s victory, Trump has argued that the results will be overturned. Republican lawmakers have said the president should be allowed to launch legal challenges, though many of those lawsuits have already been turned away by judges and those that remain do not include evidence of problems that would change the outcome of the race.
In Wisconsin, a battleground state where Biden narrowly edged Trump, top election official Meagan Wolfe said there were no problems with the election reported to her office and no complaints filed alleging any irregularities.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, said the same was true in her state, which Biden also won.
“Let me be clear — the November elections in Michigan ran as smoothly as ever,” Nessel said, adding that there were no “instances of irregularities in the process of counting the votes, only evidence-free allegations, wild speculation, and conspiracy theories.”
Ahead of Election Day, the pandemic upended longstanding voting plans and forced election officials to make systemic changes largely on the fly. They did so with limited federal money to cover increased costs for mail ballots, which take more staff and money to send, process and count.
“In the spring, there were just so many challenges we were facing, and we were just wondering how we were going to manage to do it,” said Larry Norden, an elections expert with the Brennan Center for Justice. “It’s an incredible story.”
Trump has long raised questions about the integrity of the election and railed against mail voting despite a long history of mail ballots being used successfully in this country.
On Monday, Attorney General William Barr authorized federal prosecutors across the U.S. to probe “substantial allegations” of voting irregularities.
Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, a Republican, said her office wouldn’t quantify how many complaints it had received, adding, “Many voter fraud complaints lack any evidence and are more complaints about process or policy.”
In Iowa, Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican, ordered all counties in the state to double-check results after a data entry error was discovered in one precinct.
“On Election Day, we didn’t have any reports of anything significant,” said Lisa Schaefer, who leads the bipartisan County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania. “We have every reason to have confidence in the result of this election, as we do every other election.”
Some incidents did get attention: In some Ohio and Texas counties, electronic poll books used to check in voters were sidelined when polls opened because they were still downloading a database update. That forced officials to turn to paper backups or extend voting hours on Election Day. Some Georgia counties also grappled with poll book issues and with ballot-processing difficulties in a new statewide voting system.
That said, the errors seemed to have occurred at lower rates than in most elections, University of Iowa computer scientist Doug Jones said.
“The practical consequence of Trump’s call to vigilance to prevent fraud was increased scrutiny from both sides, and this increased scrutiny seems to have worked,” Jones said. “Election officials have been more careful, and election procedures have been followed more scrupulously than usual.”
This year’s presidential election marked a significant step in the use of paper voting records, with more ballots being cast either on paper or with an electronic voting machine that generates a paper backup than in any previous election. The election was also the most transparent. Several election offices offered live webcams to show the ballot-review process and added the ability for voters to track their ballots through the process.
“The system held up given the extraordinary circumstances that election officials faced,” said Amber McReynolds, who leads the National Vote at Home Institute. “Election officials managed to do their jobs even though, in most cases, they had one hand tied behind their back.”