STORY UPDATED: check for updates below.
Did Joe Biden's vote tally suddenly rise by 138,000 in Michigan, with no change to the vote count for president Donald Trump? No, that's not true: What looked like a suspicious, one-sided jump was actually just an input error. The data was quickly corrected, but screenshots of the momentary error live on.
The claim appeared in a Facebook post (archived here) on November 4, 2020. The post included two graphics that showed vote tallies for Michigan, one with 4,261,878 counted and one with 4,400,217 counted, and asked the question:
How did Biden go up 138k with no change to Trump
This is what the post looked like at the time of writing:
(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed Nov 4 18:04:43 2020 UTC)
Concerns about the sudden jump in vote tallies seem to have originated among people who were closely watching the graphics on Decision Desk HQ, a company that collects and automatically graphs the tallies as they are posted on government election websites. For a few minutes, the charts for Michigan showed Biden's total sharply increasing with no increase in Trump's tally.
Lead Stories reached out to Drew McCoy, president of Decision Desk HQ, to see what happened. He said:
There are occasionally input errors and apparently there was one.
McCoy said the erroneous data was displayed for only a few minutes before the State of Michigan website was corrected, which was then reflected in the updated Decision Desk HQ chart, which appears on their website and those of clients who buy the service. He added:
We use what the officials say ... It's not nefarious. It's not anything that anyone who has the slightest connection to elections has never seen before. An official spotted it; it was cleared up almost immediately.
McCoy said the huge numbers of people posting and re-posting Decision Desk HQ's graphics had him answering a lot of calls on the day after Election Day.
A spokeswoman for the office of the Michigan secretary of state blamed Decision Desk HQ for the error. In a November 4, 2020 email, sent several hours after McCoy's comments, spokeswoman Tracy Wimmer wrote:
We have learned that that graphic where this was first alleged was generated erroneously by a website called Decision Desk HQ, and they have admitted the graphic was a mistake. While it is unfortunate that this errant graphic, generated by a third party organization not affiliated with the Department of State, gained the traction that it did, it is a reminder that all voters, no matter their affiliation, should be extremely vigilant about the media they're consuming and the sources where they receive their information. Even well-intentioned groups have the potential to spread misinformation accidentally.
Lead Stories has not found any online report that Decision Desk HQ has accepted fault. We have reached out to Wimmer and to McCoy to ask for time-coded authentication that will show if the input error was made at state government or at Decision Desk HQ.
On Twitter, Decision Desk HQ laid the blame on a county election office:
This morning there was a clerical error in the Shiawassee, MI county presidential data,. Once we identified the error, we cleared the erroneous data and updated it with the correct data as provided by officials. We stand by our data as reflected on https://t.co/J7J00UQxN8.-- Decision Desk HQ (@DecisionDeskHQ) November 4, 2020
A New York Times reporter tweeted about the data error, saying he spoke to the county election clerk who made the mistake:
I know this because I just spent all day reporting it out.-- Jack Nicas (@jacknicas) November 4, 2020
I spoke to the election official in Shiawassee County who made the mistake; the election-data provider that reported it; and even the Republican consultant who tweeted the images that went viral. https://t.co/wLgF2z37E4
Wimmer, the secretary of state spokeswoman, later told Lead Stories:
It is my understanding that the data error was corrected by the county that had been responsible for it and on our website within 20 minutes. I do not know at what point today the organization realized the error in their graphic, but again, we emphasize that is why voters should go to trusted sources of information. While errors can and do occur during processes like this, they are often quickly corrected -- as was the case on our end -- and our data is rigorously reviewed to catch those types of errors before being turned into more digestible/contextualized information for the public, like graphics which have the potential to go viral.
Among those who re-posted about the Michigan charts was President Donald Trump. His tweet included a link to a tweet by GOP consultant and strategist Matt Mackowiak.
Mackowiak subsequently deleted his post, which included the graphics, and acknowledged the error. Here's what he said:
This tweet was taken and share honestly. I have now learned the MI update referenced was a typo in one county.-- Matt Mackowiak (@MattMackowiak) November 4, 2020
I have deleted the original tweet. pic.twitter.com/NXQINWDbEH
Note that his original tweet mentioned 128,000 votes for Biden, although the actual difference shown by the charts was more than 138,000.
Michigan is a key battleground state in the 2020 presidential election.
2020-11-04T22:54:59Z 2020-11-04T22:54:59ZUpdated to include Michigan Secretary of State's explanation and to embed a tweet from Decision Desk HQ