Fact-checking the election conspiracy theories swirling on social media

(AP) – Here’s a look at the false and misleading claims and videos that followed

(AP) – Here’s a look at the false and misleading claims and videos that followed voting in the Nov. 3 presidential election. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:

Video shows Pennsylvania election workers transcribing damaged ballots

CLAIM: A video shows election workers in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, stamping clean ballots as received and then filling them in, which proves that voter fraud is taking place.

THE FACT: The video, taken from the county’s official livestream, shows an election worker transcribing votes from damaged ballots to clean ballots.

Social media users are taking footage from livestreams of the vote count to rapidly spread false information about the close race for president in Pennsylvania. One version of the video used to make the false claim received more than 1 million views on Twitter on Friday.

The videos were shared prominently by pro-Trump accounts on Facebook and Twitter. “Nothing to see here‼️Ballots stamped as “received” THEN filled in #VoterFraud,” one tweet said. A post on Facebook sharing the video said, “Delaware County, Pennsylvania, looks like the dude in the black shirt is doing more than just ‘counting ballots’ #trump2020.”

In the video, an election worker wearing a black shirt and a black mask can be seen sitting at a table as he transcribes ballots. According to Delaware County election officials, the video was cropped to remove the bipartisan observers watching over election workers from 6 feet away, a distance that was agreed upon by the county Election Bureau and the former Republican chairman of the Delaware County Council.

When processing ballots, county officials rely on a machine extractor to open the ballots and some ballots become damaged during the process, preventing them from being scanned. In order to count those votes, the man in the video was manually transcribing the votes from the damaged ballots to a clean ballot so they could be properly scanned. The damaged ballots were positioned next to the new ones for election observers to witness, and they were preserved.

Delaware County has been allowing Pennsylvania residents to watch the livestream since they first began streaming the vote count on Nov. 3.

“Unfortunately, some residents have altered the video and are making false accusations, which baselessly and wrongly attacks the integrity of the election staff and the completely transparent process by which votes are being counted in Delaware County,” the county said in a statement.

Posts online shared at least three different videos of Delaware County election workers to suggest that voter fraud was taking place. The AP confirmed the video with county officials who said they were also transcribing ballots and observers were present.

— Associated Press writer Beatrice Dupuy in New York contributed this report.


Ballot-stuffing video was shot in Russia, not Michigan

CLAIM: Video shows poll workers committing election fraud by stuffing ballots in Flint, Michigan.

THE FACTS: The video shows poll workers in Russia, not in the United States. It has been circulating online since March 19, 2018, when it was used to support reports of alleged ballot stuffing in Russia’s elections that year.

In the video, there are five poll workers in a room. One of them is standing, and can be seen putting ballots into a white box. Later, a woman in a blue shirt can be seen doing the same. Behind them there are two polling booths.

On Thursday, social media users began widely sharing the video anew, this time with false claims it was evidence of election fraud in Flint, Michigan.

“Here we have staffers stuffing ballots in flint mi,” read a Facebook post shared nearly 2,000 times.

However, the original video was not shot in Michigan — or in the United States. It appeared in a Washington Post story about ballot-stuffing in Russia in 2018. There are also context clues that show the video isn’t American: The Russian coat of arms is visible on both the ballot box and on the polling booths.

— Associated Press writers Ali Swenson in Seattle and Abril Mulato in Mexico City contributed this report.


Sharpies used in Arizona to mark ballots

CLAIM: Votes were eliminated in Arizona and Michigan because people were made to use Sharpie pens to mark their ballots. This caused the tabulation machine to cancel the vote.

THE FACTS: Following an AP race call early Wednesday that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden had flipped Arizona, as well as updated vote counts showing Biden in the lead in Michigan, social media posts circulated suggesting votes for Trump were canceled because voters were told to use Sharpies at their polling site.

The claims spurred from a viral video from Arizona that shows a woman speaking about how four different polling places were using Sharpies, and a man asking if “those ballots are not being counted” and “are invalid.”

“They are invalidating votes is what they are doing,” the man says. “People are coming here to vote for Donald Trump and all those votes are getting invalidated,” he says in the video.

But the day of the election, officials had made clear the Sharpies were given out on purpose. The Maricopa County Elections Department tweeted on Election Day that voting centers use Sharpies so that ink does not smudge when ballots are counted.

Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes tweeted in response to a voter’s query, “Vote Centers use sharpies for the fastest drying ink, to prevent smudges going through the tabulation equipment,” he said. “This is an upgrade of our new equipment & ballots. Bleed thru does not affect tabulation because the columns are offset & the machines can only read the bubbles.”

Sophia Solis, public information officer for the Arizona Secretary of State, said in an email that votes would not be canceled if there was an issue with the ballot. According to the state’s election procedures manual, a ballot review board duplicates ballots which cannot be read by the machine.

“This may include crumpled or otherwise damaged ballots, ballots with smudged ink, or ballots which are marked in the wrong color of ink or with a device that cannot be read by the tabulation machine,” the manual states.

Yet posts online suggested there was a #sharpiegate conspiracy in Arizona. And in Michigan, social media users falsely claimed, “If you were given a black sharpie marker to fill out your ballot…The machines will successfully count your ballot but not your vote, because the machines only detect black pen ink!” Lisa Posthumus Lyons, the clerk for Michigan’s Kent County, addressed the confusion on Wednesday afternoon.

“Sharpies are the preferred device of our election equipment vendor,” she tweeted. “Black or blue pen also acceptable for proper tabulating. Bleed through is not a concern as ballots are programmed to ignore bleed.”

—Associated Press writers Beatrice Dupuy in New York and Jude Joffe-Block in Phoenix contributed this report.


Video does not show votes by dead residents in Michigan

CLAIM: Searches of Michigan’s Voter Information Center show that dead residents voted in the Nov. 3 election, proving there was voter fraud in the recent election.

THE FACTS: A video showing searches of the state’s voter information site were being shared on social media as proof that dead people cast ballots in the 2020 election. It actually showed legitimate voters.

The Michigan secretary of state’s office confirmed that ballots of voters who have died are not counted in Michigan.

The posts rely on a video that shows names of voters being entered into the Michigan Voter Registration Center. In one video, the name Donna Brydges is entered with a birth date from 1901, which would make her 119 years old. The video then shows that a vote was received from Donna Brydges in Ludington, Michigan, for the Nov. 3 presidential election. “Apparently Donna Brydges (born in 1901) voted via absentee ballot in Mason County, Michigan. That would make her 119 years old!” said a tweet circulating the video along with a claim that it shows fraud in the election. The tweet had more than 19,000 retweets. Ludington is in Mason County.

The Associated Press reached out to Brydges, whose contact information was listed in the voting information. She answered the phone and confirmed her identity. She then passed the phone to her husband, who verified that his wife was very much alive, noting, “she’s actually beat me in a game of Cribbage.”

In a statement to the AP, Tracy Wimmer, director of media relations for the secretary of state’s office, said that ballots cast by voters who die before Election Day are rejected in Michigan. “On rare occasions, a ballot received for a living voter may be recorded in a way that makes it appear as if the voter is dead,” she said.

This can occur for a number of reasons. For example, someone born in 1990 is accidentally recorded as being born in 1890, Wimmer said. “Local clerks can correct the issue when it is brought to their attention,” she said. Several other names were also used online to make the false assertion that dead people were voting. The false claims were shared online with the hashtag #stopthesteal, which has been circulated in recent days to suggest that votes are being stolen from Trump.

— Beatrice Dupuy


Wagon filmed at Detroit vote center held camera gear, not ballots

CLAIM: Video shows a man unloading ballots from a white van and using a red wagon to secretly haul them into Detroit’s ballot-counting center in the middle of the night.

THE FACTS: On Wednesday, as election workers tallied millions of mail-in votes in battleground states including Michigan, right-wing commentator Steven Crowder shared a grainy video of a man unloading something out of a white van, placing it onto a red wagon and lugging it inside Detroit’s TCF Center.

“This only creates MORE questions about votes and ballot security concerns in Michigan,” Crowder tweeted. Social media users and conservative websites quickly seized on the video, calling it “highly suspicious” and claiming it showed a man smuggling illegitimate ballots into the facility “in the dead of night.”

However, the local news station WXYZ-TV soon clarified the real explanation: The man was one of the station’s photographers, and he was using the wagon to carry his heavy camera equipment.

“A conservative ‘news’ site reports catching a man wheeling in ‘suspicious’ equipment to the Detroit convention center, implying it was used to steal ballots,” tweeted Ross Jones, an investigative reporter for WXYZ-TV. “The ‘ballot thief’ was my photographer. He was bringing down equipment for our 12-hour shift.”

In its fact check, the station also shared a photo of the wagon holding a Pelican brand camera case with a WXYZ-TV sticker on it.

— Ali Swenson ___

Wisconsin did not count more votes than there are registered voters

CLAIM: Wisconsin has “3,129,000 registered voters,” but counted 3,239,920 votes.

THE FACTS: On Wednesday, as states were continuing to count votes in the U.S. presidential election, multiple false posts circulated on social media claiming that Wisconsin had more votes counted than people registered to vote.

“BREAKING: Wisconsin has more votes than people who are registered to vote. Total number of registered voters: 3,129,000. Total number of votes cast: 3,239,920. This is direct evidence of fraud,” one Twitter user claimed. The tweet had over 9,000 retweets.

Another Twitter user wrote: “Registered voters in Wisconsin: 3,129,000. Votes counted so far in Wisconsin: 3,170,206. 101% turnout among Wisconsin voters? FRAUDULENT.”

Wisconsin, which allows eligible voters to register on Election Day, had 3,684,726 active registered voters as of Nov. 1. That figure does not include people who registered and voted on the same day.

By Wednesday afternoon, nearly 3.3 million ballots had been counted in Wisconsin in the presidential race, according to The Associated Press.

The United States Census Bureau reported that there were 3,129,000 registered voters during the 2018 midterms.

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