Fact Check: Nine-Point List Of Election 'Peculiarities' Relies On Falsehoods And Unproven Theories

Fact Check

  • by: Dana Ford
Fact Check: Nine-Point List Of Election 'Peculiarities' Relies On Falsehoods And Unproven Theories Data Flaws

Does a nine-point list of election "peculiarities" contain only true statements? No, it doesn't: The list relies on falsehoods and unproven theories. Chief among them are claims that swing states stopped counting ballots on election night, that record numbers of dead people voted and that low absentee ballot rejection rates suggest something nefarious is afoot. None is true, election officials say.

The list appeared in an article (archived here) published by The Spectator magazine on November 27, 2020. The article opened:

To say out-loud that you find the results of the 2020 presidential election odd is to invite derision. You must be a crank or a conspiracy theorist. Mark me down as a crank, then. I am a pollster and I find this election to be deeply puzzling.

Users on social media saw this:

The article's list of "peculiarities" included nine points that the author said "lack compelling explanations." We'll take them one by one.

Claim #1: "Late on election night, with Trump comfortably ahead, many swing states stopped counting ballots. In most cases, observers were removed from the counting facilities. Counting generally continued without the observers"

That's not true. There's no evidence to support the allegation that swing states stopped counting votes the night of November 3, 2020. In fact, there's evidence to the contrary.

In Pennsylvania, for example, Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar released a statement stressing that the vote count would continue. She said:

If we stopped counting ballots tonight, we would disenfranchise countless numbers of military and civilian overseas voters whose ballots, by law, must be accepted up to seven days after the election.

Pennsylvania, like other swing states Michigan and Wisconsin, does not permit election officials to start counting mail-in ballots until on or just before Election Day. This can cause some delays in reporting, but the gaps don't signify that states stopped counting ballots.

For its part, the Wisconsin Election Commission reported that clerks did not stop working the night of the election:

Michigan similarly reported that the counting process did not stop. Referring to the morning of Election Day, Tracy Wimmer, spokeswoman for the Michigan secretary of state, told PolitiFact:

At no point has the counting process stopped since it began at 7 a.m. yesterday morning, which was when, per Michigan election law, it could begin.

PolitiFact has also debunked the claim that swing states stopped counting votes on election night.

Claim #2: "Statistically abnormal vote counts were the new normal when counting resumed. They were unusually large in size (hundreds of thousands) and had an unusually high (90 percent and above) Biden-to-Trump ratio"

Counting didn't stop (see above). But it is true that Donald Trump was ahead of Joe Biden in some swing states on the night of the election, and that his lead shrunk and then disappeared over the ensuing days.

The San Francisco Chronicle published a time-lapse showing which candidate was ahead in which swing state, at different times. As more and more mail-in ballots were processed, Biden continued to gain, as those ballots trended in his favor. That's not a huge surprise. Ahead of the election, Trump repeatedly disparaged mail voting and urged his supporters to go to the polls.

The office of the Michigan secretary of state offered the following explanation of the process:

After polling places close on election night, jurisdictions across the state will begin to report voting results. However, in many jurisdictions, these results will only include the ballots voted in the polling places on Election Day, and not the jurisdiction's absentee ballots. This is because absentee ballots take much longer to process and count than the ballots that voters use at polling places, and are often counted in separate locations focused on processing them accurately and efficiently.

Claim #3: "Late arriving ballots were counted. In Pennsylvania, 23,000 absentee ballots have impossible postal return dates and another 86,000 have such extraordinary return dates they raise serious questions"

It's unclear what the author meant by "impossible" and "extraordinary" postal return dates.

One example might be a date that shows a ballot was mailed and returned the same day. That may look suspicious, but Wanda Murren, a spokeswoman with the Pennsylvania Department of State, told Reuters that's entirely possible -- and not evidence of fraud. From Reuters:

Murren said a voter could visit their county election office in person and apply for a mail-in ballot.

Once the voter's eligibility is verified, the voter can immediately receive a mail-in ballot, fill it out and return it in the office in one visit. This would allow the voter to complete every step of the process in one day.

Lead Stories reached out to the Pennsylvania Department of State for comment. We will update, as needed, if we receive a response.

Separately, there is no proof that "late arriving" ballots were counted in Pennsylvania. According to state rules, the deadline for mail-in and absentee ballots was November 6, 2020, assuming they were postmarked before 8 p.m. on Election Day. County Boards of Elections were allowed to accept military and overseas absentee ballots up through November 10, 2020, again, assuming they were postmarked earlier.

Claim #4: "The failure to match signatures on mail-in ballots. The destruction of mail-in ballot envelopes, which must contain signatures"

Claims regarding signature verification have popped up in at least two states. Lead Stories has previously addressed those allegations in Arizona. In Georgia, the issue came to the fore amid a hand recount of the vote. On November 14, 2020, Trump tweeted:

It's true that the recount did not include the re-verification of signatures on absentee ballots, but that doesn't mean that the signatures weren't checked. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution laid out how the state verifies signatures. It reported:

Before election officials counted absentee ballots in Georgia, they checked voter signatures to help make sure that ballots came from the voters who returned them.

That verification process reviewed signatures on absentee ballot envelopes when they were received at county election offices. Then ballots are separated from envelopes to protect the secret ballot, leaving no way to link voters to the candidates they chose. The right to cast a ballot in secret is guaranteed by the state Constitution.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has repeatedly defended the process, stressing that the state recently strengthened its procedures. He said:

**Absentee ballot signature match** The State of Georgia strengthened signature match this year. Elections officials...

Posted by GA Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Sunday, November 15, 2020

Claim #5: "Historically low absentee ballot rejection rates despite the massive expansion of mail voting. Such is Biden's narrow margin that, as political analyst Robert Barnes observes, 'If the states simply imposed the same absentee ballot rejection rate as recent cycles, then Trump wins the election'"

Absentee ballot rejections did not drop everywhere. In Georgia, the number of rejections for signature issues rose by some 350% in the 2020 election versus the 2018 election. However, the number of absentee ballots accepted increased at about the same clip, meaning the overall rejection rate for absentee ballots for signature issues held steady at 0.15% between the two elections, according to official state data.

In other states, it's true that the rates of rejection dropped. Michigan, for instance, reported that 15,300 of 3.3 million absentee ballots were rejected in the November election, versus 10,600 in the August election. The rate of rejection for signature issues fell from 0.14% to 0.1%, while the number of ballots that arrived late also fell. In a statement, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson praised the integrity of the election. She said:

I am extremely proud of the 1,600 clerks across the state who embraced the record setting turnout including more than double the number of absentee ballots ever cast in a Michigan election and vigilantly ensured that all valid ballots were counted ... It is also gratifying that our voter education efforts, alongside those of countless other nonpartisan organizations, in addition to the installation of secure ballot drop boxes across the state, combined to dramatically reduce the rate of voter disenfranchisement due to late submission and signature errors.

In other words, low absentee ballot rejection rates aren't mecessarily evidence of wrongdoing; they can also be proof the system works.

Claim #6: "Missing votes. In Delaware County, Pennsylvania, 50,000 votes held on 47 USB cards are missing"

Lead Stories reached out to the Pennsylvania Department of State as well as the Delaware County Board of Elections to ask about this claim. We will update this story, as necessary, if we receive responses.

Of note, Biden beat Trump by close to 90,000 votes in Delaware County, according to unofficial results. The 50,000 votes allegedly missing would not be sufficient to flip the outcome of the vote at either the county or state level, where Trump received close to 82,000 fewer votes than Biden.

Claim #7: "Non-resident voters. Matt Braynard Voter Integrity Project estimates that 20,312 people who no longer met residency requirements cast ballots in Georgia. Biden's margin is 12,670 votes"

Lead Stories reached out to the office of the Georgia secretary of state to ask about this claim. We will update this story, as necessary, if we receive a response.

Previously, election officials have vowed to crack down on potential voter fraud. A statement from Raffensperger's office read:

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has a team of seasoned investigators who have been looking into every allegation of illegal voting and fraud. The secretary's investigators will look into voter fraud allegations, including any allegations of non-residents registering to vote or voting.

On Twitter, Raffensperger took a more aggressive tone:

Claim #8: "Serious 'chain of custody' breakdowns. Invalid residential addresses. Record numbers of dead people voting. Ballots in pristine condition without creases, that is, they had not been mailed in envelopes as required by law"

The allegation about dead people voting has been widespread since the election. Lead Stories has debunked the claim in Michigan and Georgia. Similarly, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) spoke to the topic on its website, where it addressed a number of rumors around the election. CISA said:

Election officials regularly remove deceased individuals from voter registration rolls based on death records shared by state vital statistics agencies and the Social Security Administration. While there can be some lag time between a person's death and their removal from the voter registration list, which can lead to some mail-in ballots being delivered to addresses of deceased individuals, death records provide a strong audit trail to identify any illegal attempts to cast ballots on behalf of deceased individuals. Additional election integrity safeguards, including signature matching and information checks, further protect against voter impersonation and voting by ineligible persons.

This rest of the claim is made without proof and without reference to the jurisdiction where the alleged pristine ballot fraud took place.

This week, Attorney General William Barr told The Associated Press that the Justice Department has uncovered no evidence that could change the outcome of the election. There have been no credible reports of widespread voter fraud, The New York Times found when it contacted election officials in all 50 states.

Claim #9: "Statistical anomalies. In Georgia, Biden overtook Trump with 89 percent of the votes counted. For the next 53 batches of votes counted, Biden led Trump by the same exact 50.05 to 49.95 percent margin in every single batch. It is particularly perplexing that all statistical anomalies and tabulation abnormalities were in Biden's favor. Whether the cause was simple human error or nefarious activity, or a combination, clearly something peculiar happened."

It's not immediately clear whether the author meant that "Biden led Trump by the same exact 50.05 to 49.95 percent margin" in 53 separate batches, or whether those percentages -- if correct -- are representative of the total number of votes tallied up to that point. If he meant the latter, that would make sense. As more and more votes are counted, percentages are likely to stabilize, especially when they're rounded. See here for a chart that shows how the reported vote share changed over time in Georgia.

Again, Lead Stories reached out to the office of the Georgia secretary of state to ask about this claim. We will update this story, as necessary, if we receive a response.

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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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