Fact Check: Theft At Philadelphia Warehouse Does NOT Mean Election Is 'Illegitimate'

Fact Check

  • by: Dana Ford
Fact Check: Theft At Philadelphia Warehouse Does NOT Mean Election Is 'Illegitimate' No Impact

Does a theft at a Philadelphia warehouse mean the 2020 election should be considered "illegitimate"? No, that's not true: The theft of a laptop and USB drives had "no impact whatsoever on the election," according to a spokesman for the Philadelphia City Commissioners. A spokeswoman for Election Systems & Software, maker of the city's election machines, further explained that the stolen laptop was not part of the voting system and that the USB drives were encrypted.

The claim was made in a video (archived here) posted as part of a November 15, 2020, report by One America News Network under the title "Cyber Analyst on Dominion Voting: Shocking Vulnerabilities." In the clip, One America's Chanel Rion tosses to Ron Watkins, who is identified as the analyst. He said:

For example, if, say, Philadelphia was storing these keys in a warehouse and they were robbed, and the only thing stolen were these keys and a laptop, then you should consider their entire election to be illegitimate because they have lost the physical security of the system, which is the most important part of information security.

Click below to watch the video on YouTube:

Following Watkins' comment about the robbery, Rion said:

And that's exactly what happened in Philadelphia just one month before the election.

She added:

According to these tabulating machines, [Joe] Biden surpassed [Donald] Trump by nearly 60,000 votes statewide -- a lead found in one county, the county from which a thief stole USB keys and a laptop to the precinct's ballot machines the month prior.

Rion and Watkins were talking about a robbery that took place at an elections warehouse in Philadelphia's East Falls neighborhood. The Philadelphia Inquirer was the first to report the theft of the laptop and USB drives in September.

Lead Stories reached out to the Philadelphia City Commissioners, which is the government body in charge of city elections and voter registration. Spokesman Kevin Feeley wrote:

With respect to the theft of the laptop you reference, the answer is simple: the theft in question happened nearly a month before the election, and it had no impact whatsoever on the election. No information of any kind concerning the election was impacted, including the drives you reference, which were encrypted and fully protected.

Lead Stories also reached out to Election Systems & Software (ES&S), maker of the city's voting machines. Spokeswoman Katina Granger responded with details about both the drives and the laptop. With respect to the drives, she said "there was no risk to the integrity of the system due to built-in protections," which include layers of encrypted security on the data. Granger said the laptop was password-protected and not part of the voting system. She wrote:

The laptop was a general-use employee pc, did not hold any sensitive data related to elections, and was not part of the voting system. Upon learning of the theft, ES&S immediately changed the employee's corporate network user account and the device address was blocked and passwords changed.

She explained that the encryption keys, upon programming, "marry" the USB with the voting machine. If put in a different machine, it would cause an error and the machine would not work. Also, voting machines are protected with locks and seals, preventing access to the USB during an election, Granger said. If there is any indication of tampering, both the machine and the drive would be taken out of service.

All that's to say that, despite the theft, officials do not believe the election was compromised. There's nothing to substantiate the suggestion that the results in Pennsylvania should be considered "illegitimate."

Of note, Watkins, who was identified in the video clip as a "large systems technical analyst," is the son of 8kun owner Jim Watkins. 8kun, previously 8chan, is an anonymous message board that serves as home base for believers of QAnon, the conspiracy theory that holds that Trump is saving the world from a satanic ring of Democratic pedophiles.

Also of note, Trump picked up more votes in Philadelphia in 2020 than he did in 2016. The city is heavily Democratic.

Trump got 108,748 votes to Hillary Clinton's 584,025 in Philadelphia County in 2016. He received 130,235 to Biden's 587,884 votes this year, according to unofficial results. Statewide, Biden leads Trump by nearly 70,000 votes.

Pennsylvania was a major battleground state in the 2020 presidential election.

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  Dana Ford

Dana Ford is an Atlanta-based reporter and editor. She previously worked as a senior editor at Atlanta Magazine Custom Media and as a writer/ editor for CNN Digital. Ford has more than a decade of news experience, including several years spent working in Latin America.

Read more about or contact Dana Ford

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