Fact Checking Viral Claims On Election Day

Published on November 3, 2020

If social media on Election Day is anything like it was on the day President Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19 (and it will be), then we’re in for a wild ride. Major historic events that unfold on social media in real time leave a lot of room for wildly untruthful claims to go viral, partly because people simply don’t know otherwise. While we probably won’t find every single claim, we’re going be fact checking the viral social media claims that we find on Election Day (and into the curséd night).

Claim: Representative Ilhan Omar tells voters that they do not need to be registered to go cast their vote in Minnesota.

Fact Check: True

Context: This claim was posted by Sean Hannity on Twitter this morning. You don’t need to be pre-registered to vote in Minnesota because that state, along with twenty other states. In order to do this you must bring a valid ID and a proof of residence with you to your designated polling place. Here is a list of the states that offer same-day registration.

Claim: Votes for Trump are being thrown away in states like Pennsylvania

Fact Check: False

Context: A viral claim by an Instagram user mentioned throwing votes away in the battleground state of Pennsylvania that appeared to be for Donald Trump. The New York Times confirmed with the polling location that this person does not work there and had no interaction with real ballots. The claim was debunked here.

Claim: Voting machines around the country are breaking.

Fact Check: Possibly true, but it’s ok.

Context: Before your heart skips a beat, understand that voting machines regularly break during every single election (here’s an article from 2016). Election officials have urged Americans to trust that our voting system works and has always worked in the past. They expect that voters may face longer wait times because of the pandemic and from voting machine glitches, but trust that the election will be fair nonetheless. Regardless, the reasons that voting machines break are perfectly innocuous, and voters should not be concerned with voter interference through voting machine malfunction. Here is an article explaining how voting machines work.

Claim: An ‘unidentified civilian’ was seen removing an official ballot box in Philadelphia.

Fact Check: Unverified

Context: A viral tweet from the Philly GOP Twitter account claims that an ‘unverified civilian’ was seen removing an official ballot box. This has been unconfirmed and Twitter has since labeled it as potentially misleading.

Claim: A pipe burst in the room containing mail-in ballots in Fulton County, Georgia.

Fact Check: True

Context: Fulton County, which is in Atlanta, had to shut down ballot counting for about four hours on Election Day due to a pipe that burst in the room that held the absentee ballots. Fortunately no ballots were ruined. Fulton County represents the most populated county in Georgia.

Claim: Hundreds of thousands of missing ballots in places like South Florida were not delivered to election officials by the United States Postal Service.

Fact Check: False

Context: Vice reported that postal workers were rushing ballots in places like South Florida and, in many cases, the ballots were not scanned into the postal service’s system because of that. You can read that report here.

Claim: Philadelphia stopped counting mail-in ballots overnight as the United States awaits results for that area.

Fact Check: False

Context: The New York Post reported that Philadelphia stopped counting mail-in ballots late last night and would start again in the morning. However, you could watch a live stream of ballots being counted here.

Claim: Voters in Arizona were tricked into using a Sharpie to fill out their ballots, a move that would have effectively voided their vote.

Fact Check: False

Context: This conspiracy theory has been dubbed “Sharpiegate” on social media and implies that poll workers purposely gave Sharpie felt tip pens to Trump supporters to ruin their ballots. The theory was debunked and local election officials in Arizona have said that the ballots filled out with Sharpie pens are not being disqualified, Fox 10 News reports.

Claim: Military voters can still submit absentee ballots.

Fact Check: Needs context

Context: Members of the military are able to submit ballots through the absentee ballot program, but when those ballots must be received depend on the state in which military members are registered in. Four states allow ballots from absentee voters located overseas, including military voters, to arrive in the hands of election officials after Election Day. Check on voter deadlines here.

Claim: A fake Associated Press Twitter account is giving election updates.

Fact Check: True

Context: There have been several Associated Press Twitter accounts circulating the site today. Accounts associated with AP that are not verified are fake accounts.

Claim: Wisconsin and other key battleground states had more votes than registered voters.

Fact Check: Lacks context

Context: This common piece of misinformation has been circling Twitter as election results come in but it is not true. Wisconsin election officials posted on Twitter to clarify that the number of registered voters compared to ballots received could appear to be off because of same day registration numbers.

Claim: President Trump arranged a plot to expose election fraud by secretly watermarking ballots. This way, when Democrats allegedly turn in fake ballots, they would be caught.

Fact Check: False

Context: The federal government doesn’t make ballots, the states do. Some states do watermark their ballots and others do not, but those states that watermark their ballots are responsible for counting those ballots—so there would never be a situation where watermarked ballots and non-watermarked ballots are ever mixed during the counting process. It’s also extremely hard to commit widespread voter fraud.

Julia Sachs is a former Managing Editor at Grit Daily. She covers technology, social media and disinformation. She is based in Utah and before the pandemic she liked to travel.

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