Did "Stefan Serafini," a purported foreign service officer in Rome, work with Barack Obama, former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and others to rig the 2020 election? No, that's not true: There's no evidence to support the international conspiracy theory that, among other claims, recycles debunked claims that software was used to flip votes in favor of Joe Biden. Almost all votes in the 2020 election were on paper ballots or cast on machines that produce a paper audit trail, making it illogical that software could switch vote tallies without detection. When tested through audits in Michigan and hand recounts in Georgia, the accuracy of vote-counting machines was confirmed. Election officials and two independent experts have repeatedly knocked down the idea that votes were flipped.
The claim appeared in a post (archived here) published on YouTube on January 6, 2021. Titled "ITALYGATE: Maria Zack Audio - Election Theft, Votes Switched from Biden to Trump - ItalyDidIt," the post stated:
The theft of the election was orchestrated in the Rome embassy by an employee Stefano Serafini, foreign service officer of over 20 years. He retired the day before the election to ensure he would not lose his pension unlike what happened to some of the FBI agents who betrayed our country in 2016 and did lose their pension just days before their retirement. Stefan Serafini coordinated with a general Claudio Graziano, who is on the board of Leonardo SPA (an Italian aerospace defense contractor). Leonardo used their military satellite uplink to load the software and transfer it over to change the votes from Trump to Biden. The plan was orchestrated by Barack Obama with the help of Matteo Renzi, the former prime minister of Italy. The Italian intelligence service supplied intercepts, photos, phone calls, and (shockingly) pictures of the CIA agents who have been involved in orchestrating this. Italy did it.
Click below to watch the video on YouTube:
The post included audio from a roughly hour-long call with Maria Strollo Zack. She is founder of Nations In Action, a group that identifies itself as fighting for transparency and accountability in government. During the call, Strollo Zack, a former Georgia lobbyist, made a number of unsubstantiated claims. We'll address them in chronological order.
First, she alleged that a foreign service officer orchestrated election fraud. (Note that she said his first name was Stefan, rather than Stefano. The post had it both ways.) Here's Strollo Zack:
The theft of the election was orchestrated in the Rome embassy ... by an employee, Stefan Serafini, foreign service officer of over 20 years. He retired the day before the election to ensure he would not lose his pension.
Lead Stories reached out to the State Department to ask whether there was such an employee at the Rome embassy and, if so, whether he retired. We will update this story if we receive a response.
Second, Strollo Zack said that "Serafini" worked in tandem with a general, who she said sits on the board of an Italian defense group, to switch votes. Here's Strollo Zack:
Stefan Serafini coordinated with a general, Claudio Graziano -- and Claudio Graziano, Gen. Graziano, is on the board of Leonardo, the defense contractor ... Leonardo used their military satellite uplink to load the software and transfer it over to change the votes from [Donald] Trump to Biden.
Lead Stories searched Leonardo's website and found no one by the name of "Claudio Graziano" sits on the board. Lead Stories reached out to the company to ask for comment on the broader claims. Again, we will update this story if we receive a response.
At this point, it's worth stressing that the basic premise of the theory outlined by Strollo Zack is flawed. Almost all votes in the 2020 election were on paper ballots or cast on machines that produce a paper audit trail, making the possibility that software could switch votes without detection illogical.
The U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has stated that a bad actor could not change election results without being caught and confirmed that there were no instances of malicious software in the 2020 election. Here's CISA:
The vast majority of votes cast in this election will be cast on paper ballots or using machines that produce a paper audit trail, which allow for tabulation audits to be conducted from the paper record in the event any issues emerge with the voting system software, audit logs, or tabulation. These canvass and certification procedures are also generally conducted in the public eye, as political party representatives and other observers are typically allowed to be present, to add an additional layer of verification. This means voting system software is not a single point of failure and such systems are subject to multiple audits to ensure accuracy and reliability.
Georgia, for example, conducted a statewide audit of paper ballots. The results confirmed the original outcome of the vote, as determined by the machine tallies. When tested, the accuracy of vote-counting machines was confirmed. Michigan's director of elections has declared under oath that digital voting equipment could not be used to switch votes in the way that multiple conspiracy theorists say it has been.
Edward Perez, an election technology and security expert at the Open Source Election Technology (OSET) Institute told Lead Stories in a November 12, 2020 phone interview that his 17 years in election technology and election administration give him confidence that his review of the 2020 presidential election is correct: vote theft of this scale is not possible, given the multiple cross-checks election clerks, administrators and poll-watchers apply to vote tallies.
Election officials in Georgia, and elsewhere, have repeatedly knocked down the idea that votes were flipped and defended the integrity of the vote. A statement released by CISA on November 12, 2020, characterized the 2020 election as the "most secure in American history." Here's the relevant part of that statement, which can be read in full here:
When states have close elections, many will recount ballots. All of the states with close results in the 2020 presidential race have paper records of each vote, allowing the ability to go back and count each ballot if necessary. This is an added benefit for security and resilience. This process allows for the identification and correction of any mistakes or errors. There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.
Third, Strollo Zack alleged that Obama and Renzi were involved in the plot to rig the election. Specifically, she said that the plan was "orchestrated" by Obama, "with the help of Renzi." She offered no documentary, testimonial, photographic nor physical evidence to substantiate that statement.
Finally, Strollo Zack alleged that Italian intelligence was involved in helping expose the truth about the election. She said:
The Italian intelligence services supplied us with intercepts, photos, phone calls and, shockingly, pictures of the CIA agents that have been involved in orchestrating this.
Lead Stories reached out to Strollo Zack, via Nations in Action, to ask about the purported documentation. We will update this story if we receive a response. During the call, she discussed a strategy of having the Italian media cover her claims first. Again, here's Strollo Zack:
We don't want to blow too much too quick, and I'm not sure how much the American public can tolerate. It's easy to say that that's happened with Leonardo and a couple guys loading it, but once you unveil the rest of it, I'm not sure that that will go very well.
Lead Stories reviewed the Italian news feeds of Reuters, the Associated Press and Sky News and found no references to Strollo Zack's claims.