John Fetterman, projected winner of the US Senate race in Pennsylvania, waves onstage at an election watch party in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on November 8, 2022 ( AFP / Angela Weiss)

False mail-in ballot claim targets Senator-elect John Fetterman

Copyright © AFP 2017-2023. All rights reserved.

Social media users claim more than half of the votes for John Fetterman in Pennsylvania's US Senate race came from mail-in ballots, indicating the Democratic Party committed fraud during the 2022 midterm elections. This is false; the figures in the posts are incorrect, and there is no evidence that absentee voting has contributed to widespread fraud in the battleground state.

"52% of Fetterman's votes were mail in ballots. The Dems can put somebody with brain damage into office with this massive operation. Republicans need to match this effort," says a November 10, 2022 tweet.

The same claim also circulated on Facebook and Instagram after the Democratic candidate was projected to win Pennsylvania's competitive US Senate race against Republican Mehmet Oz, a celebrity doctor backed by former US president Donald Trump.

Screenshot of a tweet taken November 18, 2022

Unfounded claims of wrongdoing via absentee ballots are not new.

Trump has repeatedly and falsely claimed mail-in ballots are responsible for widespread fraud. Such allegations circulated before, during and after the 2020 presidential election -- and again following the latest midterm results.

But Fetterman did not receive 52 percent of his votes through mail-in ballots, and fraud is exceptionally rare.

As of November 21, preliminary election results showed Fetterman received 35 percent of his votes from mail-in ballots. About 9.4 percent of Oz's votes came from absentee ballots, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.

Mail-in vote fraud 'infrequent'

Pennsylvania's Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman made no mention of issues with mail-in ballots in her November 8 report on the midterm elections.

She said the biggest problem involved in-person voting in Luzerne County, where approximately 44 polling places ran out of paper and hours had to be extended.

The Pennsylvania Department of State told AFP in a statement: "Cases of fraud via mail-in voting are infrequent, and there are mechanisms in place to prevent and detect them."

It added: "More than 6.3 million no-excuse mail-in ballots have been cast since they became an option for voters through Act 77 of 2019. Mail-in voting is a safe, secure way for Pennsylvania voters to cast their ballot and let their voice be heard in any given election."

Absentee ballots cast in Pennsylvania had to be received by November 8 to be counted.

The federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency also said there are no verified reports of widespread malfeasance affecting the 2022 midterms.

"We have seen no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was any way compromised in any race in the country," the agency said in a November 9 statement.

'Struck by lightning'

A 2020 analysis from the Brennan Center for Justice, a left-leaning think tank, showed that while absentee ballots are more susceptible to fraud than in-person voting, the number of confirmed cases is small.

"It is still more likely for an American to be struck by lightning than to commit mail voting fraud," the report said.

This is supported by data from The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, that show 12 confirmed absentee ballot fraud cases in Pennsylvania from 1994 to 2022.

Ballot validation methods vary from state to state, but all have tools to help keep votes safe. Bar codes, secure drop boxes, tracking systems and post-election audits have enhanced the security of mail-in voting.

AFP has fact-checked other false and misleading claims about the midterm elections here.