Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick repeated unsubstantiated claims in a Thursday interview that the only way Republicans can lose on Election Day is if Democrats cheat.
"The Democrats have just decided this election, Mark, we don't have to pay attention to any laws. We're gonna use COVID as an excuse to steal the election, and that's what they're trying to do everywhere," Patrick, a Republican, said during a radio interview on "The Mark Davis Show." "If the president loses Pennsylvania or North Carolina, Mark, or Florida, they'll lose it because they stole it."
A spokesman for his office clarified after the interview that Patrick was referring to "reports of ballot irregularities" and "other potential fraud" being seen in Pennsylvania and other battleground states. There have been no credible reports of widespread fraud or irregularities in Pennsylvania. President Donald Trump's campaign seized on an announcement by federal authorities that they were investigating why nine military ballots were found in a trash can there, but no arrests have been made and no evidence has been made public that any fraud was involved.
Voter fraud in absentee voting, as with any type of voting, is rare. Many states, including many run by Republicans, have expanded mail-in voting options during the pandemic.
The comment from one of Texas' top Republican leaders echoes unproven accusations from national party leaders, most notably Trump, that the Democratic Party is sidestepping election rules. Trump made these claims for months during his rallies, accusing Democrats of "rigging" the election and referring to mail-in voting as a "scam."
State Democrats fired back, calling Patrick's rhetoric dangerous.
"The Lieutenant Governor's comments are irresponsible, dangerous and untethered to reality. We are seeing record-high voter turnout across Texas and the country. It's telling, although not surprising, that Dan Patrick sees people voting as a problem," said Grand Prairie Rep. Chris Turner, chair of the Texas House Democratic Caucus, in an email.
As of Wednesday, more than 8.6 million Texans — about half of registered voters — had cast their ballots. Officials said the high turnout this election is being driven by a combination of voter enthusiasm, the additional week allowed for early voting due to the pandemic and surges in votes by mail.
For the first time in decades, the Lone Star state is considered a national battleground.
Overall, RealClearPolitics' polling average hovers at a 3.2-point advantage for Trump. The president leads the former vice president 50%-45% in Texas, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
"We're creating a movement, we're going to beat them and Dan Patrick knows that and he's trying to set up excuses for when we are victorious," said Abhi Rahman, the Texas Democratic Party spokesperson.
But Texas GOP Chairman Allen West has dismissed the notion that Texas is at risk of flipping.
"What a bunch of psychological operations (PSYOPS) drivel!" West tweeted, referring to a poll that had Biden ahead of Trump in Texas by 3 percentage points.
"The left is in panic mode and are putting out questionable polls to discourage Republican turnout in Texas," he tweeted.
During the radio interview, Patrick predicted some Texans will take to the streets to protest election results, depending on who wins.
"If he wins or whenever it's announced, or if he's ahead on that day, I'm afraid our cities are gonna burn in America," Patrick said. "Texans, we're law and order people. We'll follow the law, and for those who don't, we'll be ready to take them on."
Earlier this week the Texas Army National Guard said up to 1,000 troops could be dispatched to five major cities — Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio — ahead of Tuesday's election.
Gov. Greg Abbott last activated the National Guard in late May following a series of protests that emerged across the state in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here. The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.