The claim: Federal Election Commission Chair Trey Trainor calls election 'illegitimate,' and said voter fraud is taking place.
In the past week, comments that Federal Election Commission Chair Trey Trainor made have spread online as purported evidence of voter fraud and illegitimacies in the recent election.
RecentlyHeard.com, a news website, wrote that "The Chief Electoral Officer of the Federal Election Commission made a Bombshell statement, saying that, from what he saw in Pennsylvania, and news that he had come from elsewhere in the world, this election was unconstitutional."
"It’s not just anyone’s making the announcement. Trey Trainor isn’t just a state election officer, he’s a federal officer. And on top of that, he’s the chairman of the whole commission," its story continued.
"It really is explosive news. The top boss of all the election officials, Trey Trainor, has confirmed that in his professional opinion, 'there has not been transparency in the election' and 'this in election is illegitimate,'" Sherbert wrote.
Engdahl shared an image that read, "When the Chief of the Federal Elections Comission says, 'Election fraud has taken place' then you better believe that election fraud has taken place."
RecentlyHeard.com, Sherbert and Engdahl have not responded to requests from USA TODAY for comment.
Trainor's claims of election fraud echo baseless allegations made by President Donald Trump and his campaign. Trump has refused to accept the election's results and insists without evidence that a wide conspiracy has robbed him of victory.
Who is Trey Trainor, and what is the FEC?
Trainor is the chair of the Federal Election Commission. He is not its "Chief Electoral Officer," as RecentlyHeard.com wrote — that role doesn't exist.
The Federal Election Commission is tasked with enforcing federal campaign finance laws. Its duties include monitoring restrictions and limits on campaign contributions, and overseeing public funding for presidential campaigns, per USA.Gov.
The FEC only oversees finances and is one of multiple federal bodies that deals with elections — so it's not accurate to call Trainor the "top boss of all the election officials," or to suggest he supersedes state officials.
In reality, elections in the United States are "highly decentralized," and are primarily administered by thousands of state and local systems rather than a single national system, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service.
"States typically have primary responsibility for making decisions about the rules of elections (policymaking)," the report explains. "Localities typically have primary responsibility for conducting elections in accordance with those rules (implementation)."
In fact, in his appearance on Newsmax, Trainor acknowledged that he had not been briefed on the matter.
"We really haven't been briefed on any of it given that we don't — you know, the states control the elections and the FEC really doesn't have any jurisdiction over how these are being handled at the state level," he said. "For the federal level, they would communicate through the Election Assistance Commission."
(U.S. Election Assistance Commissioner Ben Hovland called false claims about the election "baffling," "laughable" and "insulting," per CNN.)
Trainor is a Republican lawyer who advised Trump in 2016.
He was nominated by Trump in 2017, though he was not confirmed by the Senate until May 2020, according to the Washington Post.
In September, Trainor called the upcoming contest between Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden a "spiritual war."
"It is striking at the underlying foundations of our constitutional republic,” he said, per the Washington Post. “It’s getting rid of the Christian moral principles that are the basis of the foundation of the country."
What did Trainor say about the election?
In his nearly six-minute interview on Nov. 6, Trainor made a number of claims about the validity of the election, including the comments referenced by RecentlyHeard.com, Sherbert and Engdahl.
First, he claimed that "observers have not been allowed into the polling locations in a meaningful way," and called the election "illegitimate" as a result.
"State law allows those observers to be in there, and if they're not, the law is not being followed, making this an illegitimate election," Trainor said.
Second, he said he believes voter fraud took place.
"I do believe that there is voter fraud taking place in these places," Trainor said. "Otherwise they would allow the observers to go in."
He added that the "political system is based upon transparency," and that "there has not been transparency in this election."
Third, he claimed that Democrats controlled all the states considered too close to call.
"In every instance we have here where the states are too close to call, they're controlled by the Democrat Party, particularly in the urban areas where they're being counted," he said.
It's worth nothing that Trainor never said the election was "unconstitutional," as reported by RecentlyHeard.com.
All 3 claims have inaccuracies
There are inaccuracies in all three of his claims, most of which echoed the baseless claims that other Republicans, including Trump, have stated since Nov. 3.
Multiple fact-checks, including by the New York Times and PolitiFact, found no evidence to support claims that observers were blocked from ballot counting rooms, including in Pennsylvania, which Trainor highlighted in his remarks.
Some legal filings from the Trump campaign itself acknowledged that its observers were present in the rooms where ballots were counted.
There is also no evidence that there was any systemic fraud in the election.
Last week, a national coalition of election security officials also described the election as "the most secure in American history," per USA TODAY. There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised," the coalition concluded.
Two weeks after the election, the Washington Post also concluded that on top of there being no widespread fraud, "there is barely evidence of even minor fraudulent incidents."
The New York Times also contacted the offices of the top election officials in every state to ask if they suspected or had evidence of voter fraud; none reported any major issues.
The claim that "every instance" of states that were too close to call on Nov. 6 were states run by Democrats is also untrue.
On Nov. 6, six states — Arizona, Alaska, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania — were still too close to call, per CNN.
Secretaries of state are tasked with election administration in many states. Both Georgia and Nevada have Republican secretaries of state. Alaska has no secretary of state, so its election duties fall to the lieutenant governor, who is also a Republican.
What have the other commissioners said about the election?
There are supposed to be six commissioners of the FEC at any given time, and the body requires at least four commissioners for a quorum. But due to a spate of resignations and a dearth of appointments, there are currently only three commissioners, including Trainor, the chair.
After being impotent since September 2019, it had quorum for only 28 days after Trainor took up his post in June before another commissioner resigned and left it powerless once more, per the New York Times.
The remaining commissioners are Steven T. Walther, an independent, and Ellen L. Weintraub, a Democrat.
Walther, who is the vice chair, has been on the FEC since 2006. He has not spoken about the election since it occurred. Weintraub has done three yearlong stints as its chair since she joined the FEC in 2002.
She has defended the integrity of the election and said the opposite of Trainor.
"State and local officials and poll workers throughout the country really stepped up. And there have been very few complaints about how this election was run. Very few substantiated complaints, let me put it that way," Weintraub told CNN.
"There is no evidence of any kind of voter fraud," she added. "There is no evidence of illegal votes being cast."
Weintraub also retweeted a take-down of Trainor by Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California-Irvine.
"The FEC deals with campaign finance, not vote counting. And Trey Trainor does not speak for the FEC," Hasan wrote on Twitter.
Along with her retweet, Weintraub added, "I can confirm: FEC does *not* say widespread fraud."
Our ruling: Partly false
The quotes from FEC Chair Trey Trainor are real and came from an interview with Newsmax. But he's not the "top boss of all the election officials," and the FEC's jurisdiction isn't related to vote counting or election security — only campaign finances. Trainor himself admitted he wasn't briefed on the issue, and all of his comments contained factual inaccuracies, echoing false allegations of election fraud that have been presented with no proof. Based on our research these claims are PARTLY FALSE, true only in that Trainor expressed his opinion about the election.
Our fact-check sources:
Washington Post, Sept. 18, FEC chairman, in interviews, says this year’s election amounts to a ‘spiritual war’
USA.Gov, Federal Election Commission
Congressional Research Service, March 4, 2019, The State and Local Role in Election Administration: Duties and Structure
Newsmax, Nov. 6, Trey Trainor to Newsmax TV: Voter Fraud Is Taking Place
New York Times, Nov. 7, There’s no evidence to support claims that election observers were blocked from counting rooms.
Politifact, Nov. 12, Trump’s wrong claim that election observers were barred in Pennsylvania, Michigan
USA TODAY, Nov. 12, Election security officials: 'No evidence voting systems compromised'
Washington Post, Nov. 17, Two weeks on, no evidence of any significant fraud
New York Times, Nov. 17, The Times Called Officials in Every State: No Evidence of Voter Fraud
New York Times, June 26, After Functioning for 28 Days, U.S. Election Regulator Will Be Powerless Again
Ellen L Weintraub, Nov. 13, Tweet
Rick Hasen, Nov. 12, Tweet
Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.
Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.
This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here, for more.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Federal Election Commission chair echoes false fraud claims