President Donald Trump and his campaign claimed that Democrats are "trying to steal the election" and that widespread "voter fraud" is taking place after nine general election ballots, seven of which were marked for Trump, were found discarded in the swing state of Pennsylvania.
On Thursday, the Justice Department said that it had launched an investigation after nine military ballots were found in a dumpster next to the elections building in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. The department also announced that seven of the ballots were "were cast for presidential candidate Donald Trump."
The announcement was highly unusual because it specifically emphasized that the votes were marked for Trump, raising suspicions that the Justice Department was trying to politicize the situation and allow Trump to use it for his political gain, which he did.
Trump Attacks Democrats, Mail-In Voting
Trump and other White House aides used the information, even before the news was made public, to attack mail-in voting and accuse his political opponents of sabotaging the election. "They throw them out if they have the name Trump on it, I guess," Trump said on Thursday. The President's son, Eric Trump, tweeted that the incident was "voter fraud."
Matt Wolking, a top spokesman for the Trump campaign, tweeted that it was proof that "Democrats are trying to steal the election," before deleting the post. Trump also tweeted a Fox News segment that contained multiple falsehoods about the incident, and added, "Democrats are Rigging our 2020 Election!"
Ballots Thrown in the Trash by Temporary Employee
As it turns out, the ballots were discarded due to an error made by a temporary employee working at the elections bureau. Luzerne County Manager C. David Pedri said in a statement on Friday that a temporary independent contractor who was assigned to sort mail at the elections bureau "incorrectly discarded" the ballots into the office trash.
The temporary employee began working at the elections bureau on Sept. 14, Pedri said, and the mistake was discovered by Luzerne County Elections Director Shelby Watchilla two days later. "Ms. Watchilla immediately began an internal inquiry and informed her direct supervisor. The temporary independent contractor was removed from service and informed not to return," Pedri said in the statement.
Following the internal inquiry, Watchilla "contacted Luzerne County Office of Law who researched the matter and advised that this needed to be reported to the authorities," after which a request was made to the district attorney's office.