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YOUR LEGAL RIGHTS | How Donald Trump lost the lead in 2020

Attorney David Betras
Attorney David Betras

Good morning, and welcome to professor David Betras’ Election Integrity seminar. Please turn off your cell phones, do not scroll through TikTok, and do not chew gum during class.

This week, I will address two issues at the center of debunked yet ongoing assertions that the 2020 presidential election was stolen: the way in which mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania were processed and claims that millions of votes were switched by hackers who accessed voting machines via the internet.

Pennsylvania became a focus of the “Stop the Steal” movement because, as is often the case, we do things better here in Ohio. By midnight on Nov. 3, Donald Trump had amassed a 550,000-vote lead over Joe Biden. By 7 a.m. the next morning, the margin had climbed to 700,000 and then began to steadily decline until Saturday, Nov. 7, when Biden was declared the winner by 35,000 votes.

What explains the shocking reversal of fortune? According to the former president, fraud.

But here is what really happened: Pennsylvania officials began doing what they were prohibited by law from doing until the polls closed on Nov. 3: processing and counting the more than 2.5 million mail-in ballots cast in the election. As Biden gradually gained ground over the four days it took to tally the votes, the ex-president and his allies raised seemingly legitimate questions about the evaporation of what had been a huge lead.

That would not have happened in Ohio where we are permitted to process mail-in ballots as they arrive at the board of elections. Bipartisan teams of workers validate the ballots then run them through a scanner that counts but does not tally them. The processed ballots are locked in a safe that is under constant video surveillance. When the polls close on Election Day, we push the “tabulate” button on the scanner, the votes are tallied, and the results are made public. Votes cast in precincts on Election Day are compiled as they arrive at the board, so while overall results may not be available until after midnight, the count is — with very rare exceptions — completed within 24 hours of Election Day.

If Pennsylvania did the smart thing and processed mail-in ballots as they arrived, the first results published on Election Night would have shown Biden with a sizable lead that dwindled through the night. In those circumstances, it would have been difficult for the Trump forces to scream “stop the count” because they would have been gaining rather than losing ground. The way Pennsylvania handles mail-in voting is stupid — it provides oxygen for conspiracy theorists, so it needs to change.

Now, on to the internet and voting machines. On Nov. 12, 2020 President Trump alleged via Twitter that Dominion voting machines “DELETED 2.7 MILLION TRUMP VOTES NATIONWIDE” and that “221,000 PENNSYLVANIA VOTES” had been “SWITCHED FROM PRESIDENT TRUMP TO BIDEN.” Although these charges have been debunked by both conservative and traditional media outlets, they remain a central theme of those who believe the election was stolen.

Please, doubters, I implore you, listen to Professor Dave: It is simply not true.

In Mahoning County, voters cast paper ballots on DS200 voting machines. The paper ballots are retained in the machine and the votes cast are recorded on a USB stick. The machines are NEVER connected to the internet. The same is true of the DS850 scanner used to tabulate mail-in ballots. In addition to never being connected to the internet, the board of elections retains the paper ballots, so there is a verifiable, auditable record of every vote cast. Those ballots, like the machines, are kept under lock and key, are subject to constant video surveillance and are always handled by bipartisan teams of election officials.

The same procedures are in place in jurisdictions that utilize falsely maligned Dominion machines.

The bottom line: If your candidate loses an election, it is because they were beaten, not because they were victims of fraud.

So get over it.

Class dismissed.

Attorney David Betras, a senior partner at Betras, Kopp & Markota LLC., directs the firm’s non-litigation activities and practices criminal defense law in both the state and federal courts. He has practiced law for 35 years. Have a legal question you’d like answered here? Send it to

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