NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:

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Arizona officials correct false claims about ballot issues

CLAIM: When ballots were rejected by tabulators at some voting locations across Maricopa County on Election Day, an alternate solution for voters to drop ballots in a secure drop box onsite resulted in the ballots getting shredded, thrown in the trash, or marked for Democrats.

THE FACTS: Ballots submitted in this way were counted just as absentee ballots or mail-in ballots are, according to county officials. They weren’t discarded or altered. When a printing problem caused tabulators to reject ballots in at least 70 of 223 polling sites in Arizona’s largest county on Tuesday, county officials offered a few alternate solutions. Voters could wait and try another machine, cancel their vote and go to another vote center, or drop their ballot in a secure drop box referred to as “door 3” or “box 3.” Some social media user falsely claimed that using this drop box would allow county officials to rig those votes by manually changing them or discarding them. However, county elections department spokesperson Megan Gilbertson explained that ballots placed in these drop boxes were machine-counted at the central tabulation center in downtown Phoenix, just as all mail-in and absentee ballots are. At the end of the voting day, a bipartisan team collected all the voted ballots from voting centers, sealed them and transported them by truck to the tabulation center for counting. This is the same process used for early voting and is the same methodology used on Election Day by most counties, including Pima County and Yavapai County, Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer said in a statement Tuesday.

— Associated Press writers Josh Kelety in Phoenix and Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.

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Clip shows poll worker in Wisconsin, not ‘cheating’ in Philadelphia

CLAIM: Video shows masked man at polling site “cheating” in front of cameras in Philadelphia.

THE FACTS: The video shows a poll worker in Madison, Wisconsin, on Tuesday. He was initialing ballots to be handed out to voters, a standard procedure mandated by state law, according to the county clerk. Social media users on Election Day distorted a clip of the Madison poll worker doing his job to falsely claim it showed election fraud in Philadelphia. The video, which aired on Fox News on Tuesday, shows a man wearing a cloth face mask flipping through ballots and writing on them. “Masked man cheating in front of the cameras on the mainstream media,” read a widely shared tweet with the video. But the original footage shows the video was filmed in Madison, not Pennsylvania. Immediately before Fox News showed the clip in Madison, the network showed the exterior of Philadelphia’s East Passyunk Community Center with a graphic labeling that location. The broadcast then showed the clip of the poll worker and changed the location in the label to Madison. Social media versions of the video cropped out the location. A reverse-image search of the building’s interior revealed that the clip was filmed at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, which served as a polling location for Tuesday’s election. Scott McDonell, the Dane County clerk, said the man is a poll worker, and the video shows him initialing ballots before they were handed out to voters. He was also circling the ward in which the ballots were issued. It’s part of the process of preparing the ballots for voters, McDonell said. Another poll worker also initialed the ballots before they were handed to voters. “You need to have those signatures to show that two people saw the blank ballot and handed it to the voter,” McDonell said. “This is a standard operating procedure. It’s done in public so that anyone can watch it. It’s mandated by state law. It’s a check and balance on the system.” Barry Burden, a University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor and the director of the Elections Research Project, agreed that the video showed standard procedures for poll workers in Madison. Wisconsin election law explains that at polling places with paper ballots, two inspectors “shall write their initials on the back of each ballot and deliver to each elector as he or she enters the voting booth.” Philadelphia’s city commissioner on Twitter debunked the false claims that the video showed a polling site in his city. Nick Custodio, deputy commissioner with Philadelphia’s elections board, told the AP that Philadelphia does not use paper voting booths such as those shown in the video, and that the “I voted” stickers in the video also do not match those used in Philadelphia.

— Associated Press writers Arijeta Lajka and Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report with additional reporting from Amy Forliti in Minneapolis and Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia.

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No voters turned away over Detroit absentee ballot glitch

CLAIM: Voters in Detroit were prevented from casting ballots on Election Day after officials mistakenly said they’d already voted by absentee ballot.

THE FACTS: No eligible voters were prevented from casting a ballot at Detroit polling locations that experienced the data glitch on Tuesday morning, state and city officials confirmed. As voters nationwide went to the polls, there was heightened focus on voting problems and irregularities. One of the places election watchers sounded the alarm early on was the battleground state of Michigan. “People are showing up to vote in Detroit only to be told that they already voted via absentee ballots and are being turned away,” wrote one Twitter user. “Citizens are being told they voted already absentee,” wrote Kristina Karamo, a Republican candidate for Michigan secretary of state, in widely shared posts on Twitter and Facebook. Former President Donald Trump also amplified the claims on Truth Social. But state and city officials said the issue stemmed from an election software problem and was quickly resolved without anyone being disenfranchised. Corwin Smidt, a political science professor at Michigan State University in East Lansing, said the situation demonstrated the voting system worked properly. “It certainly slowed down voting there, but the reasons for the slowdown were that the system caught an error, and that error was then fixed,” he wrote in an email. Liette Gidlow, a history professor at Wayne State University in Detroit who focuses on U.S. politics and voting rights, agreed. “Minor technical glitches are not unusual in any precinct because administering elections is a complex business,” she wrote in an email. Detroit’s elections department said the problem was caused by computer software used by election workers to check in voters as they entered the polling location. The agency said the program wrongly flagged some residents as having requested an absentee ballot, which would make them ineligible to cast a ballot in-person. Matthew Friedman, a department spokesperson, said the issue was resolved within an hour and all eligible residents were able to vote. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, whose office assisted the city in addressing the issue, also stressed that no voters were disenfranchised. “In all circumstances, eligible voters were able to vote,” the office said in a statement. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which observed the voting process, said it spoke with multiple city election officials and was satisfied with the response. Spokespersons for Trump and Karamo did not respond to messages seeking comment.

— Associated Press writer Philip Marcelo in New York contributed this report.

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CLAIM: A Pennsylvania judge ruled that ballots received up until Nov. 14 will count in the 2022 midterm elections.

THE FACTS: Pennsylvania ballots, including mail-in and absentee ballots, must be received by county election offices by 8 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 8, to be counted, according to the state’s Department of State. As voters went to the polls on Tuesday, misleading information about Pennsylvania’s vote-counting deadlines gained traction. “This just in: Pennsylvania Judge allows ballots to count that are received up until November 14th,” read one post. “This is unconstitutional.” The message, shared in several Instagram posts, is a screenshot of a tweet that was later deleted. The Twitter user who first posted it acknowledged in a follow-up that the information was incorrect. Existing law requires that Pennsylvania voters’ ballots be received by county election workers by Nov. 8, the Department of State explains. Unlike some other states, Pennsylvania allots no extra time for mail-in ballots — what counts is the day the ballot actually made it to election officials, not when the ballot was postmarked. The Twitter user who first made the claim said in a follow-up post that the court case he was referring to was a recent decision by a Pennsylvania Common Pleas Court. However, the case in question has nothing to do with ballot submission deadlines. It concerned the cross-checking procedure that Pennsylvania uses to prevent duplicate votes from being counted, according to Kevin Feeley, spokesperson for the Philadelphia City Commissioners, which oversees elections in the city. The city had sought to delay that process until after the initial ballot count, in an effort to get ballots counted more quickly. He said that no duplicate votes had been found in the last three elections. The court granted the city the right to delay the reconciliation process, but the judge in the case was “highly critical” of the idea, Feeley said. So the City Commission opted Tuesday to revert to doing reconciliation as usual. Feeley confirmed that the case did not mean voting can occur through Nov. 14.

— Associated Press writer Graph Massara in San Francisco contributed this report with additional reporting from Melissa Goldin in New York.

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Large numbers of mailed ballots not evidence of election fraud

CLAIM: A candidate winning an election with a majority of mailed ballots is proof of fraud.

THE FACTS: There is no evidence that mail-in voting has historically caused widespread voter fraud, and fraud related to mail-in voting is exceedingly rare, the AP has reported. Some on social media have posited that if a candidate who receives a significant chunk of their votes through mail-in voting wins, their victory is inherently fraudulent. An Instagram post features results reporting that incumbent Kelly Skidmore, a Democrat, beat Dorcas Hernandez, a Republican, in the race for state representative in Florida’s 92nd House District. It shows Skidmore with 57.51% of the vote, including 31,405 mailed ballots, and Hernandez with 42.9% and 10,297 mailed ballots. “This is what textbook election theft via vote by mail ballot looks like,” the post states. The numbers in the Instagram post are from the state’s unofficial results, as published online by county boards of elections. However, the fact that some candidates are reported as having won after receiving a majority of mailed ballots does not prove election fraud. Claims that mail-in voting has caused widespread voter fraud in the past are unsubstantiated, according to reporting by the AP. After reviewing every potential case of voter fraud in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the AP found far too few to affect the outcome of the 2020 election. Additionally, an AP survey of state election officials across the U.S. found that the expanded use of drop boxes during the 2020 race did not lead to cases of fraud that could have impacted the results. Different states have different ballot verification protocols, but all states vet mailed and absentee ballots. Every state requires voters to sign their ballots. Some have additional precautions, like having bipartisan teams compare the signature on the ballot with one on file, requiring the signature on the ballot to be notarized or requiring a witness to sign the ballot. Other forms of verification can include requiring proof of voter registration, a copy of an ID, a driver’s license number or a Social Security number. Ballot security features and ballot sorting at election offices would help weed out any counterfeits. There are harsh penalties for voter fraud by mailed ballot, such as a fine, prison time or both.

— Associated Press writers Melissa Goldin and Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.

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