Election workers work on counting absentee ballots for the 2020 general election at TCF Center on November 4, 2020 in Detroit, Michigan (AFP / Jeff Kowalsky)

False claims of 2020 US election fraud

Copyright AFP 2017-2020. All rights reserved.

Allegations of fraud and foul play in the 2020 US election have spread across the internet, casting doubt on the legitimacy of the closely fought vote between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

The claims echo repeated unfounded predictions of fraud by Trump, who has refused to concede and insisted without evidence that victory was stolen from him. 

He began challenging the results soon after polls closed, tweeting that: “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election.”

A screenshot of a tweet taken on November 4, 2020

AFP examines other claims of fraud that are circulating online.

Switched votes

US President Donald Trump tweeted a claim that large numbers of votes were either deleted or switched from him to Democrat Joe Biden, including in the battleground state of Pennsylvania.

“‘REPORT: DOMINION DELETED 2.7 MILLION TRUMP VOTES NATIONWIDE. DATA ANALYSIS FINDS 221,000 PENNSYLVANIA VOTES SWITCHED FROM PRESIDENT TRUMP TO BIDEN. 941,000 TRUMP VOTES DELETED. STATES USING DOMINION VOTING SYSTEMS SWITCHED 435,000 VOTES FROM TRUMP TO BIDEN.’ @ChanelRion @OANN,” Trump wrote.

A screenshot of a tweet taken on November 12, 2020

Federal and state election officials issued a statement rejecting the assertions in Trump’s tweet. 

“There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised,” the members of the Election Infrastructure Government Coordinating Council Executive Committee and the Election Infrastructure Sector Coordinating Council said. 

And spokesperson for Pennsylvania’s Department of State rejected the claim, which Trump attributed to the right-wing One America News Network.

“There is no factual basis for this claim. Allegations of fraud and illegal activity have been repeatedly debunked and dismissed by the courts. Those attacks against the core values of Americans are intended to undermine our democracy, and we must reject them,” the spokesperson said. 

Election technology company Dominion Voting Systems -- which was blamed in Trump’s tweet -- also pushed back against the allegations.

“Dominion categorically denies any claims about any vote switching or alleged software issues with our voting systems,” it tweeted.

Dead voter in Michigan

Social media posts claim a ballot was cast in the 2020 US election on behalf of a deceased Michigan man born in 1902, pointing to the case as evidence of fraud.

“Turns out 118 year old ‘William Bradley’ voted via absentee ballot in Wayne County, Michigan. William Bradley died in 1984,” said a tweet that has been retweeted tens of thousands of times.

A screenshot of a tweet taken on November 9, 2020

Some posts encouraged people to input Bradley’s details into the Michigan Voter Information Center site, which returned a record of an absentee ballot being sent to him on September 19 and received on October 2.

But “no ballot for the 118-year-old Mr Bradley was ever requested, received or counted,” Lawrence Garcia, Detroit Corporation Counsel, said in a statement sent to AFP by email.

“A man with a nearly identical name requested a ballot and voted properly in both the primary and general elections. When his ballot was initially logged, however, it was incorrectly attributed to the William Bradley born 118 years ago through a clerical error,” Garcia said.

And Tracy Wimmer, director of media relations for Michigan’s secretary of state, said that ballots cast on behalf of deceased voters would not be accepted.

“Ballots of voters who have died are rejected in Michigan, even if the voter cast an absentee ballot and then died before Election Day,” she said by email.

Illegally adding addresses in Wisconsin

Articles shared tens of thousands of times on social media claim Wisconsin may have broken the law by allowing poll clerks to fill in missing witness addresses on absentee ballots.

“Wisconsin Election Commission Might Have Violated State Law by Allowing Clerks to ‘Fix’ Ballots, Report says,” an article in conservative media outlet The Daily Wire claimed. 

A screenshot taken on November 11, 2020 shows the headline of an article

In its claim, The Daily Wire refers to Wisconsin Statute 6.87 6(d), which states that if the witness certificate accompanying an absentee ballot is missing the witness’s address, then “the ballot may not be counted.”

The article continues that, in October 2020, the state Elections Commission issued a directive “that seemed to allow” clerks to “‘fix’ ballots.”

But Reid Magney, public information officer for the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said that: “There were no corrections made to ‘ballots.’”

“These were witness addresses added, in accordance with the Commission directive, to the certificate,” which is on the ballot envelope and must include signatures of the voter and witness, as well as the witness’s address, he said in an emailed statement.

The addresses were added as part of a “publicly observable process” and under Commission guidance in effect since October 2016.

The statement added that the motion to approve the guidance was made by Republican members of the Commission four years ago. It passed unanimously and has been in effect for 11 state-wide elections, including the 2016 presidential and presidential recount.

An absentee ballot cannot be counted without a witness address, but the law “does not specify who affixes the address,” the Commission statement said.

Pennsylvania ballot fraud

A video purporting to show Pennsylvania poll workers fraudulently filling out ballots has been viewed tens of thousands of times online.

“CAUGHT ON TAPE: ELECTION WORKERS FILLING IN BALLOTS! Delaware County, Pennsylvania,” said the caption of the video.

A screenshot taken on November 6, 2020 shows a video posted on YouTube

But workers in the video -- which was taken from an official Delaware County livestream -- were in fact transcribing ballots that were damaged during processing, and the footage has been manipulated, according to a statement from the public relations office of the county on the edge of Philadelphia.

The “manipulated video” is zoomed in to exclude “the bipartisan observers who were not more than six feet away and does not give the full picture of the process,” the statement said.

“As ballots were being transcribed, the original damaged ballots were directly beside the new ballots and bipartisan observers witnessed the process at close range. Damaged ballots have been preserved,” it added.

Too many votes

Social media posts claimed that voter fraud took place in eight US states during the 2020 presidential election because the number of votes exceeded the number of registered voters.

“It just so happens that we are on track to have more votes than registered voters in every single state that could potentially win Trump the election. You’ve been caught Dems,” said one Facebook post.

A screenshot of a Facebook post taken on November 6, 2020

It and other posts included a table that allegedly showing the 2020 registered voter and turnout numbers for the states of Nevada, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona and Georgia.

For its voter registration data, the table relied on a link from the World Population Review site, archived here

But the voter registration statistics mentioned in the table were outdated, matching official data from the US Census Bureau collected in November 2018. 

The title of the World Population Review table misleadingly read “Number Of Registered Voters by State 2020,” when in fact its sources tab provided a link to 2018 numbers.

The page was later updated on November 4 to show the 2020 statistics and link to official state sources.

“The page was updated on 11/4 after it was brought to my attention that the table was showing 2018 data. I updated it with the latest data released by each state's election website,” Shane Fulmer, the founder of World Population Review, said by email.

Burned ballots in Virginia

Trump’s son Eric claimed on Twitter that 80 ballots cast for the president were burned. 

“Burning 80 Trump Ballots,” Eric Trump wrote in a tweet, spreading a claim from a now-suspended account that included a video clip of the alleged incident, which is no longer viewable.

A screenshot of tweet taken on November 5, 2020

But the City of Virginia Beach responded to his tweet, saying: “Those were sample ballots,” and linking to a statement.

“A concerned citizen shared a video with us that ostensibly shows someone burning ballots. They are NOT official ballots, they are sample ballots,” the statement said, referring readers to “the attached freeze frame image and photo of the official ballots, which have the bar codes.”

Biden surge in Michigan

The number of reported votes for Biden, the Democratic candidate, jumped by more than 138,000 on the morning of November 4, drawing online accusations of foul play.

“So while everyone was asleep and after everyone went home, Democrats in Michigan magically found a trove of 138,339 votes, and all 138,339 of those ‘votes’ magically went to Biden? That doesn’t look suspicious at all,” one Twitter user wrote.

A screenshot of a tweet taken on November 4, 2020

But it was caused by human error when a zero was added as votes were counted. The mistake was quickly fixed after state officials noticed it, but a real-time report by an independent analyst fed claims of fraud online.

Caroline Wilson, county clerk for the central Michigan county of Shiawassee, said: “I added an extra zero accidentally,” thereby reporting 153,710 votes for Biden instead of 15,371.

“The minute it was discovered, it was corrected, probably within 20 minutes, so I’m amazed how fast this spread,” Wilson said.

When the figure was lowered by the correction, 138,339 votes were removed from Biden’s total tally without any changes to Trump’s numbers.

Sharpie pen fraud in Arizona

Social media users claimed that Arizona voters were pushed to use Sharpie pens on their ballots in a bid to make them illegible and keep votes for Trump from being counted.

“The poll workers were taking the pens from voters and making them use Sharpies. Sharpies bleed through. All of the votes marked with Sharpies couldn't be read,” said one Facebook post.

A screenshot of a Facebook post taken on November 4, 2020

It included a video in which a man said: “People are coming here to vote for Donald Trump, and those votes are all getting invalidated.”

But officials -- including Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs -- said using a Sharpie would not invalidate ballots, while voters also had the option of bringing their own pens.

“IMPORTANT: If you voted a regular ballot in-person, your ballot will be counted, no matter what kind of pen you used (even a Sharpie)!” Hobbs wrote on Twitter -- an assessment echoed by the election department of the state’s most populous county.

Biden jump in Wisconsin

Online claims that votes were fraudulently added to Biden’s tally in the battleground of Wisconsin relied on a graph that showed a sharp jump for the Democrat.

“Voter Fraud in Wisconsin -- Massive Dump of Over 100,000 Ballots for Biden All the Sudden Appear Overnight,” read the headline of an article by right-wing website The Gateway Pundit, before projections showed Biden winning the state.

A screenshot taken on November 6, 2020 shows the headline of an article

The graph on which the article was based came from analysts at FiveThirtyEight. It showed a sudden surge in votes for Biden between midnight and 6:00 am on November 4, but did not point to fraud.

The graph was published on FiveThirtyEight’s election live feed in the morning of November 4, based on data from ABC News as of 6:23 am that day.

“There’s nothing ‘magical’ about these vote drops: counties simply released a large batch of results all at once,” Curt Villarosa of ABC News, which owns FiveThirtyEight, said in an email.

“And these batches were NOT 100% Biden votes,” he added. “Behind the blue line, there is also a red line representing the thousands of votes Trump GAINED.”

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here for more.

EDIT: This article was updated on November 13, 2020 to add a statement from election officials..
US Elections 2020