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Fact-checking Trump's claims on poll watchers

President Trump does not plan to concede
President Trump does not plan to concede if Biden declares victory 05:36

Washington — President Trump delivered an error-filled speech from the White House on Thursday, inaccurately claiming Joe Biden's electoral lead is the result of a far-reaching conspiracy mounted by the media, Democrats and "big tech" designed to deny him another four years in the White House, and alleging he is the winner of the election even though he trails in electoral votes and in several key states where a winner has yet to be called.

Mr. Trump also beat the familiar drum that the election is rife with voter fraud, though he failed to put forth any evidence to support his claims.

APTOPIX Election 2020 Pennsylvania Vote Counting
Republican canvas observer Ed White, center, and Democratic canvas observer Janne Kelhart, watch as Lehigh County workers count ballots as vote counting in the general election continues, Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, in Allentown, Pa. Mary Altaffer / AP

While alleging the election has been rigged against him, the president made several incorrect claims that election officials in Pennsylvania and Michigan were attempting to count votes behind closed doors, denying access to his campaign's observers.

Here is a closer look at Mr. Trump's allegations about poll watchers, many of which are unsubstantiated.

Claim: "They don't want us to have any observers, although we won a court case.  The judge said you have to have observers."

"Democrats have gone to the State Supreme Court to try and ban our election observers, and very strongly.  Now, we won the case, but they're going forward.  They don't want anybody in there."

Rating: False

Referring to the vote-counting going on in Pennsylvania, Mr. Trump is incorrect about the position of Philadelphia officials in a dispute over poll watchers at the Philadelphia Convention Center, where ballots are being tallied.

At issue in the dispute is how far poll watchers are from the tables where officials are working, not whether observers are allowed. The Trump campaign argued observers were too far away, and a judge on the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled Thursday that they must be allowed within 6 feet of all ballot canvassing.

Philadelphia officials appealed the order to the state's supreme court, warning the lower court's ruling was wrong and "jeopardizes both the safety of the city defendants' canvass, plus the privacy of voters."

The city also said the evidence presented "makes clear that candidate and party representatives can observe every portion of the precanvassing and canvassing process."

Mr. Trump's own lawyers admitted there are representatives from the campaign in the convention center where ballots are being processed, according to CNN. During a hearing in a separate case filed in federal court, Jerome Marcus, a lawyer for the campaign, told Judge Paul Diamond "there's a non-zero number of people in the room."

Claim: "In Philadelphia, observers have been kept far away — so far that people are using binoculars to try and see — and there's been tremendous problems caused. They put paper on all of the windows so you can't see in."

Rating: Somewhat true

The Philadelphia Inquirer did photograph an unidentified poll watcher using binoculars while workers can be seen in the background counting ballots inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center. But it's unclear how far away the observer was from the vote-counters, and the photo is dated November 3, Election Day.

Two days later, on Thursday, a state court judge ordered that poll watchers must be allowed within 6 feet of all ballot canvassing.

In terms of the papered windows of the Convention Center, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported there are windows with paper over them, but it's unclear whether those windows overlook the area where ballots are being tallied.

However, despite Mr. Trump's suggestions that Philadelphia officials are not being transparent about ballot canvassing, the city set up a YouTube livestream where people can watch the process for themselves.

Claim: "Poll workers in Michigan were duplicating ballots.  But when our observers attempted to challenge the activity, those poll workers jumped in front of the volunteers to block their view so that they couldn't see what they were doing, and it became a little bit dangerous." 

Rating: False

Mr. Trump did not present any evidence that Michigan poll workers were duplicating ballots, and it's unclear what he is referring to.

Claim: "One major hub for counting ballots in Detroit covered up the windows, again, with large pieces of cardboard. And so they wanted to protect and block the counting area. They didn't want anybody seeing the counting, even though these were observers who are legal observers that were supposed to be there."

Rating: Mostly false

Mr. Trump appears to be making a reference to the TCF Center in Detroit, where chaos erupted earlier this week when election challengers yelled for counting by the 134 absentee voter counting boards to be halted because they were stopped from entering the counting space.

But the issue was the number of election challengers allowed in the TCF Center. State law allows one challenger per party to serve in a counting board, and when Democratic and Republican election challengers were stopped from entering the TCF Center, it was because the number of challengers exceeded the maximum allowed by law.

Lawrence Garcia, corporation counsel for the city of Detroit and a commissioner on the Detroit Election Commission, told CBS News on Wednesday the city was "not allowing more challengers in because we had gone over the 134 challenger limit for each party."

"The count on the book was 250 Democrat to 225 Republican, plus or minus one or two," he said.

Garcia also said some of the glass was papered over because poll workers were being filmed. The workers, he said, "were upset, they felt intimidated … I was concerned that people might have a lens strong enough to actually see the ballots."

Garcia added that though paper was put on the windows, that does not mean the counting was being conducted in secret. 

"There's hundreds of people in this room, thousands maybe, who can witness what they're doing at those tables," he said.

Costanza Maio contributed to this report

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