Fact Checking The 2020 Election


Election Day is here. We may see a flood of false information about President Donald Trump and his challenger, former vice president Joe Biden. Researchers are warning about images or videos of ballot tampering that may be old or out of context, misleading statistics on voter fraud, and baseless allegations of foreign interference.

Before sharing an online rumor with your friends and family, take the time to verify it. This can be as easy as checking how recently an account sending out the information has been created, comparing the claim to what reputable news outlets are saying, searching online to find another source, or doing a reverse image search.

Today we’ll be keeping a running list of unverified, misleading, and fake claims that we have been able to debunk. This list will be updated throughout the day, so please check back.

BuzzFeed News has journalists around the US bringing you trustworthy stories on the 2020 elections. To help keep this news free, become a member.

Hello! Happy election day. Me and @CraigSilverman are on the lookout for false, misleading, and unverified information.

See something? My DMs are open, my email is jane.lytvynenko@buzzfeed.com.

Debunks will be compiled in thread and in this post 👇 https://t.co/SpP6fItKGp

How to read this post:

UNVERIFIED: Claims that have no concrete evidence either confirming or refuting them. This type of claim has either no sources or no evidence, and is based on conjecture with no original reporting behind it. Treat this kind of information with healthy skepticism and wait to see how it develops.

MISLEADING: Posts that take a real event out of context, for example: miscaptioning a video or photo from the protests. This can also include images that are presented at a deceptive angle or descriptions that cherry-pick facts. Avoid spreading or engaging with this type of post.

FALSE: Reporters or reliable sources with direct knowledge have contradicted this information on the record, or it is refuted by unimpeachable evidence. Examples include images or videos filmed at a different time or location but presented as recent, demonstrably false claims, and websites masquerading as news outlets publishing untrue information.

1. A viral video shows a local TV cameraman in Detroit, not a poll worker wheeling in ballots.

A Texas news site and YouTuber Steven Crowder spread a video that they claimed showed suspicious activity at a Detroit polling place were key votes are being counted. The video actually shows a local TV cameraman with WXYZ Detroit wheeling equipment into the TCF Center.

FACT CHECK: A video claiming to show voter fraud and a wagon being loaded outside of the TCF Center in Detroit is actually video of a WXYZ photographer loading his camera and other gear into a wagon for work.

MORE INFO: https://t.co/eqRi2Xulp2

During a Wednesday livestream that racked up millions of views on YouTube, Crowder promoted the video as possible “proof” of voter fraud. As footage of the cameraman played, he and a guest speculated that the man was bringing in ballots to be counted. When the man loaded a box onto a wagon, Crowder said, “You wouldn’t be able to trust it because some ballots could fly off the back.”

The footage was shot by Kellye SoRelle, a Texas lawyer and member of Lawyers for Trump who said she was in Detroit as a Republican observer. She appeared on Crowder’s live stream and said the box taken from the van was similar to boxes of ballots she “had seen and been watching and monitoring” at other polling stations.

She was wrong.

“The ‘ballot thief’ was my photographer,” tweeted Ross Jones, a reporter with WXYZ. “He was bringing down equipment for our 12-hour shift.”

The video was also the subject of a misleading story by Texas Scorecard, a conservative site. Its YouTube channel uploaded the footage, garnering over 120,000 views.

2. There is “no basis” for the claim that 500 mail-in ballots supporting president Trump were dumped in Michigan.

A person who’s unaffiliated with a news outlet or election officials is making the dubious claim that 500 pro-Trump ballots were “dumped” in Michigan.

“As far as we know there is no basis for this claim,” a spokesperson for the Michigan Secretary of State told BuzzFeed News. “Have not heard of anything of the sort happening from the clerk.”


1. It’s misleading to say ballots have been “magically found” in Michigan, where mail-in ballots are still being counted.

Tweets, like the one above, claiming ballots were being “magically counted” are misleading. The state’s mail-in ballots are still being counted and officials are asking the public for patience, the Detroit Free Press reported.

The influx of 138,339 Biden votes cited in some tweets were the result of a data error, according to a spokesperson for Decision Desk HQ, an election data and analysis service.

“It was a simple error from a file created by the state that we ingested,” the company said in a statement. “DDHQ does not correct/amend/adjust any state provided file. The state noticed the error and produced an updated count. This happens on election nights and we expect other vote tabulators in MI experienced this error and corrected in real-time as we did.”

The state is largely Democratic and absentee ballots are “expected to be more generally favorable to Biden,” according to the Detroit Free Press. You can see the latest Michigan results here.

2. No, Wisconsin did not experience more votes than people who were registered to vote.

3. Yes, you can use a Sharpie to fill out a ballot in Arizona.

Did you know we use Sharpies in the Vote Centers so the ink doesn’t smudge as ballots are counted onsite? New offset columns on the ballots means bleed through won’t impact your vote! Find a location before the polls close at 7 p.m. today at https://t.co/8YEmXbWyRL.


Twitter

According to the Wisconsin Election Commission, there were 3,684,726 voters in the state as of November 1. The total votes counted as of 11:30 am ET were 3,288,771, meaning that there were exactly 395,955 more registered voters than votes cast.

Some supporters of the president are falsely saying on social media they were given Sharpies to vote at Arizona polling places, leading to their votes being invalidated. The conspiracy even generated its own hashtag, #sharpiegate.

It’s not clear where this falsehood originated, but Arizona officials confirmed that ballots filled out with Sharpies will be counted.

4. Yes, some counties paused vote counting overnight. No, it’s not suspicious.

Officials in some counties in Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Georgia paused late in the night on Tuesday and resumed counting Wednesday morning. The reason? To give poll workers some rest.

But the decisions to pause some vote counts elicited viral Twitter posts that falsely conflated the break with voter fraud, claiming that Democrats were halting the count to generate fraudulent votes for former vice president Joe Biden.

Because the United States does not have a national election authority, decisions to let poll workers sleep differed by place, with some locations continuing to work around the clock.

There is no evidence of widespread voter irregularities, and the vote count is continuing as expected.

5. No, ABC News did not retract its prediction that Joe Biden would win Arizona.

Pro-Trump podcaster Graham Allen falsely claimed on Twitter that ABC News retracted its call that Biden had won Arizona. In fact, ABC News had not awarded the state to either candidate when Graham tweeted early Wednesday afternoon.

This is what the news organization’s electoral map looked like:

Allen later deleted his tweet.

Mediaite reported that the false claim originated on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. This is what he said:

I need more than one source on this. I’ve just heard that ABC News has taken in Arizona down for Joe Biden. I just found this, I don’t have enough time to research myself so I have assigned somebody to try to. OK, so they have they have taken it away. ABC has taken it away from Biden. It’s not that they’ve given it to Trump, it’s just that it’s still undecided. Well, at least they took it away.

6. The White House Press Secretary and the president’s son are lying about winning Pennsylvania.

State election officials have not yet certified the result. As of Wednesday afternoon, there were still thousands of ballots remaining to be counted.

Twitter and Facebook both applied warning labels to posts making the claim: “Official sources may not have called the race when this was Tweeted,” the Twitter label said.

“Final results may be different from the initial vote counts, as ballot counting will continue for days or weeks after the polls close,” read the label on Facebook.

7. A viral video does not show someone burning 80 Trump votes.

A video that claimed to show someone putting 80 votes for Trump into a plastic bag and setting them on fire spread rapidly on Twitter. It’s also false. Twitter has suspended at least one account that posted the video, which was retweeted by the president’s son, Eric Trump, and other pro-Trump influencers.

In reality, the “votes” being burned were sample ballots, according to a statement from election official in Virginia Beach, Va.

The video appears to have been first shared by an anonymous account early on Wednesday morning, which later tweeted it had no idea where the video was shot and claimed to live in England.

Right-wing site the Gateway Pundit cited it in an article, while acknowledging that, “None of the people who have tweeted the video seem to know where the video came from to confirm its authenticity.”

8. The US president is lying about winning Pennsylvania.

Late on Wednesday afternoon, Trump lied about winning the battleground of Pennsylvania on Twitter and repeated disinformation about “secretly dumped ballots.” Twitter applied a warning label to both tweets. The first label warned that results have not been called yet and the second said that “the content shared in this Tweet is disputed and might be misleading about an election or other civic process.”

9. A fake Associated Press account is tweeting false election results.

Twitter suspended the account late on Wednesday afternoon.

10. The New York Times did not retract a call that gave the state of Arizona to Biden.

The chairperson of the Arizona Republican Party spread false information. But the New York Times did not retract their call, and it continues to say that Biden will win Arizona.

11. A Wall Street Journal columnist miscalculated voter turnout in Wisconsin.

A Wall Street Journal columnist misinterpreted how to calculate voter turnout, leading her to raise misleading concerns about the results in Wisconsin. Kimberley Strassel tweeted that the turnout was 89%, which she said was “not feasible.” However, her calculation was wrong.

Incredible. Kimberley Strassel of the Wall Street Journal has floated an elaborate conspiracy theory about Wisconsin vote fraud because she doesn’t understand that in the US, “voter turnout” means what percentage of eligible – not registered – voters voted. https://t.co/wsCsZzlrGd


Twitter

Turnout is calculated based on eligible voters, not registered voters. That means the turnout was actually around 71%, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. That’s in line with the turnout expectations in the state and around the country, and not cause for concern.


1. No, voters have not received ballots already filled out with whom to vote for.

A screenshot of what appeared to be a pre-filled-out ballot circulated widely over the weekend and was retweeted by Eric Trump, the president’s son, to 4.3 million followers on Twitter. Although it looked nefarious, in an interview with FactCheck.org, an official with the New York Board of Election solved the mystery.

It turned out that the voter received a blank ballot, filled it out, and accidentally mailed it to themselves, receiving it back at their address. Officials were able to figure out what happened because the voter’s ID was clearly visible in the photo.

@jakejakeny This is the height of irresponsibility to continue to make these false claims. We have communicated directly with the voter in question, who received a BLANK absentee ballot. This is simply untrue!

“This is the height of irresponsibility to continue to make these false claims” the New York Board of Elections tweeted.

Local press covered the falsehood, which spread widely across social media, where the decontextualized image received thousands of likes, shares, and comments. Twitter and Facebook have both labeled the claim as misleading.

2. A former US intelligence chief shared a misleading photo of Joe Biden without a mask.

Richard Grenell, a Trump supporter and the former acting director of national intelligence, falsely claimed a photo of a maskless Joe Biden showed the former vice president not following his own advice to wear a mask during the pandemic. In fact, the photo was taken before the pandemic, in November 2019, as made clear by the caption in Vogue magazine where it originally ran.

As CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski noted, the misleading tweet was also spread by conservative commentator Mark Levin, garnering more than 50,000 additional likes and retweets.

3. No, campaign posters were not hung within 10 feet of a polling place in Philadelphia.

Images purporting to show campaign posters within 10 feet of a polling location — that’s not allowed — are “deliberately misleading,” according to the city’s district attorney’s office.

In an email to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for the office confirmed that the tweets are false and pointed to the electioneering rules in Philadelphia.

“What’s described in that tweet is disinformation,” she said. “I should note that we received no complaints regarding what is being alleged about that location.”

Members of our Election Task Force have investigated this allegation. This polling place is located in an interior room and the sign in question is further than 10 feet from it. This tweet is deliberately deceptive. #PhillyVotes #Election2020 https://t.co/szKgxoigVm


Twitter

The falsehood was posted by a reporter from conservative outlet Newsmax and amplified by a member of the White House staff. The photos have since spread to Facebook and Instagram.

4. A video showing a poll watcher being prevented from entering a polling location lacks key context.

According to a staffer at the Philadelphia city commissioners office, the situation depicted in the video really did happen, but there’s more to it than what’s shown.

“It was an honest mistake,” spokesperson Kevin Feeley said in a phone call.

The poll watcher had a different ward than what was at on his certificate, Feeley said, and the worker misinterpreted the law and didn’t allow him in. An older version of the law said that watchers must be assigned to specific wards.

According to Feeley, after the error was realized, it was corrected. “This person was allowed to enter and is there now,” he said.

A spokesperson for the district attorney’s office also said, “Our Election Task Force has not received any complaints that fit what is being described or alleged in that tweet.”

5. No, former president George W. Bush did not endorse Joe Biden.

A person on Twitter has been spreading the false claim the former president George W. Bush endorsed Joe Biden.

While hundreds of former Bush administration officials have endorsed the former vice president, a Bush spokesperson previously said the 43rd president “is retired from presidential politics and has not indicated how he will vote.”

The Dallas Morning News reported on Nov. 2 that the former president would not reveal how he voted in this election.

The @mankindtracer account, meanwhile, has been trying to spread the false claim by tweeting it at high-profile accounts.

6. No, a Trump supporter was not blocking a polling place in New Jersey.

The Clifton Police Department said “that’s incorrect,” when asked about the claim.

“I just got off the phone with the city manager, and he said they checked it out and there’s nobody there,” a Passaic County Board of Elections spokesperson said.

7. Black Lives Matter protesters did not block a polling station in North Carolina.

A Twitter account, @unclesamsnation, falsely claimed that Black Lives Matter protesters were “blocking polls” in North Carolina. The video used in the tweet was shot on Oct. 31 and showed police in Graham, North Carolina, aggressively reacting to a local march to the polls. The group held a rally encouraging people to vote, but they were prevented from concluding the planned march to an early voting site.

The tweet was later deleted.

8. No, a Pennsylvania poll worker did not throw out Trump votes.

A person on Instagram spread the false claim that they had thrown out “over a hundred ballots for trump” while working at a polling station in Pennsylvania.

“He is not one of our poll workers and there is no one with that name registered to vote in Erie, PA,” Amy Dalessandro, an election coordinator at the Erie County Courthouse polling location, told New York Times reporter Davey Alba.

9. These pallets of bricks are not suspicious and have nothing to do with the election.

This photo shows pallets of bricks on a sidewalk in what a person on Twitter said was Chicago. He also claimed the bricks “mysteriously” showed up.

There’s nothing mysterious about the bricks. As reported by Mikael Thalen in a detailed Twitter thread, the bricks were used to build a patio wall for a nearby restaurant. Thalen also established that the photo was old and that the bricks were no longer on the sidewalk.

The misleading tweet garnered attention because it evoked the claims about bricks that spread during protests after police killed George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. At the time, BuzzFeed News investigated more than 15 claims that bricks were being deliberately placed near protests as a way to instigate chaos. In every example, there was a reasonable explanation for the bricks.

That’s also the case with another Election Day post about bricks. A person on Facebook shared images of pallets of bricks in Detroit and claimed that they could be used in riots. The Detroit Free Press reported that the bricks were being used to build a wall.

10. Many sources, like the one below, are making unverifiable speculations about the outcome tonight. Rely on official election results and avoid trusting accounts that don’t cite sources.

Experts expect online misinformation to include false results. You can see genuine results as they come in here.

11. Yes, a Democratic woman really did ask a poll observer in Philadelphia to leave, although she was wrong and the poll watcher never left.

A video showing a verbal altercation at a polling station in Pennsylvania in which a local Democratic official asked a Republican poll watcher to leave is genuine, officials confirmed to BuzzFeed News.

But there’s more to the story.

Kevin Feeley, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia City Commissioners, said the poll watcher in the video never left the polling station, and that the altercation was the result of a misunderstanding.

Feeley told BuzzFeed News that his office sent a senior state election official to the polling station to investigate. They found that the woman in the video had misunderstood new regulations, which now allow poll watchers to remain for the duration of polls being open.

“That’s not how it worked in the past,” Feeley said.

Oh look! A Democratic committeewoman in north Philly wearing a Biden mask not letting certified Republican poll watchers into a polling place… She ends with “that rule ain’t worth being followed” when someone says they should be allowed inside.

A concern with the coronavirus also came up, Feeley said, because the polling station was located at a seniors’ residence. Once the situation was made clear, the Democrat apologized.

“I’m sorry that happened to her,” Feeley added. “It shouldn’t happen to anybody.”

Ultimately, the Republican poll watcher stayed and was later joined by one from the Democratic Party.

Otillia Steadman contributed reporting to this story.

If you have a news tip, we’d like to hear from you. Reach out to us via one of our tip line channels.



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