Fact Check: Voting Machine Message Voters Received Did NOT Keep Them From Voting

Fact Check

  • by: Arthur Brice
Fact Check: Voting Machine Message Voters Received Did NOT Keep Them From Voting Not formatted

Were a handful of early voters in Utah who went to cast ballots told they had already voted? Yes, that's true: But it happened to only a few people and was due to a technical error by a poll worker. Once the problem was fixed, they able to vote. Official records show they had not voted previously, said Salt Lake County Clerk Sherry Swensen.

The claim appeared in an article published by The Cain Gang on October 29, 2020 titled "Instagram Testimony: People Are Showing Up to Vote and Being Told They Already Voted" (archived here) which opened:

Her name is Taylor Zundel, and it sounds like she and her husband live in or near Salt Lake City. And she witnessed quite the irregularity when they showed up for early voting: Not just her husband, but at least one other voter, were told when they got there that records showed they had already...

Users on social media only saw this title, description and thumbnail:

Instagram Testimony: People Are Showing Up to Vote and Being Told They Already Voted

Her name is Taylor Zundel, and it sounds like she and her husband live in or near Salt Lake City. And she witnessed quite the irregularity when they showed up for early voting: Not just her husband, but at least one other voter, were told when they got there that records showed they had already...

NewsGuard, a company that uses trained journalist to rank the reliability of websites, describes hermancain.com as:

A website featuring conservative commentary by Herman Cain, a former businessman who ran for president in 2012. Cain died in July 2020 of the COVID-19 virus.

According to NewsGuard the site can generally be trusted to maintain journalistic standards. Read their full assessment here.

The Cain Gang story is right: Some voting machines in Utah told potential voters they had already voted when, in fact, they had not. But the Cain Gang story lacks critical context.

First, it only happened to a handful of people, Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen told Lead Stories in a telephone interview October 30, 2020. There was no widespread or systematic denial of vote to a large swath of people.

Secondly, the problem was caused by poll worker error and an outdated default message on the voting machines that told voters they had already voted when the machine could not read the voter access card or it was inserted after a prescribed time limit.

According to Swensen, after signing in at the voting station, each voter is given a voter access card that is inserted into the voting machine to call up a ballot on the screen. Before handing the card over, the poll worker is supposed to clear it electronically, in effect wiping it clean and activating it. That enables the card to pull up the ballot. But if the poll worker does not clear the card, an error message appears on the voting machine screen that says the voter has already voted. A similar message will appear on the screen if the machine times out because a voter took more than 2 1/2 minutes in inserting the card after it has been cleared. That happens sometimes, Swensen said, if a voter is too busy talking on the phone or stops to read a sample ballot, for example.

The controversy started when a woman posted a video on the Instagram account for Taylor Zundel on October 26, 2020 in which she relayed what happened when she and her husband went to early voting that day in Salt Lake County, Utah.

According to the woman, after her husband checked in, he was handed the voter access card to insert into the voting machine. But when he inserted it, the screen said he had already voted, which he hadn't. He took the card back to the check-in desk and was told the poll worker would have to call an election official in Salt Lake City "to clear his vote," she says in the video.

When he was given the card back, he went back to the machine and was able to vote.

The woman says several times in the video that the issue is important, and notes that:

It doesn't feel right.

She also posted a message on the Instagram account that said:


This happened to TWO different people within the short 5-10 mins I was voting. This isn't okay! Spread the word.

When election officials found out about the video, one of them posted the following comment on the woman's Instagram page:

Hello Taylor,

We are happy to help you understand what happened.
We can assure you that this was not a case of voter fraud.
What happened was a mistake by the poll worker at your location.
That worker missed a step on the check-in screen. By missing that step, no information was added to the card. When that happens and the card is inserted into the machine, a red error message comes across the machine indicating, "This voter access card is already voted. Please remove it from the machine." That card was not properly processed and had no information on it.
It's also important to note that we do not "clear votes." The individuals you spoke to were referring to properly processing the voting card, which is a generic information transmitting device.

We go to great lengths to ensure safe and secure elections. If you have other concerns, please contact our office by phone or come down in person to the Salt Lake County Government Center.

We are here for you Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

We are always available with answers to your questions about elections.

Best Wishes,

Salt Lake County Elections

Salt Lake County Clerk Swensen said in a telephone interview with Lead Stories on October 29, 2020, that she wrote the note. Swensen said it's important for voters to understand what happened and to know there's no fraud or ill-intent in the routine glitch. To that end, she said:

We offered to have her come in and we could demonstrate.

Has she accepted the invitation and gone in? Answered Swensen:

I haven't heard that she has.

The woman in the video doesn't come right out and say it, but questions she poses seem to assume that someone had voted in her husband's place. Her questions:

  • Who did he apparently vote for before?
  • What if he hadn't voted this year? The other vote would have counted.
  • Is it all that easy to clear a vote? "If so, that's a little scary," she says.

The Cain Gang articles also poses a series of questions that seem to indicate some type of voter fraud was occurring:

  • Who marked these men as already having voted, when they hadn't?
  • What exactly does it mean to "clear your vote" and how is it done? Who has the authority to do it?
  • Did someone frauduently vote using their names? Is it that easy? If so, how many other fraudulent votes end up getting counted because no one realizes they happened?
  • How many people never get the chance to vote because election officials don't know how to solve a problem like this?
  • If people are wrongly marked down as having voted when they didn't, could the opposite also happen? That people who do vote never have their votes recorded? Can that happen? Does it?

As Swensen pointed out, no one had voted previously using these voters' identities. And votes are not cleared, she said. It's the voter access cards that are wiped clear before each use. The problem, she said, was easily fixed by clearing the cards.

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  Arthur Brice

Arthur Brice is a fact checker at Lead Stories. He has been a journalist for more than 40 years, nearly 30 of them in newspapers. Brice was a national desk editor and reporter at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for nearly 20 years. Previously, he was political editor at The Tampa Tribune and also worked for three other Florida newspapers. He spent 11 Years as an executive editor and executive producer at CNN. 

Read more about or contact Arthur Brice

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