Fact check: What's true and what's false about the 2020 election
False claims about the election process are spreading online in wake of the 2020 vote. The USA TODAY Fact Check team is dedicated to verifying claims and fighting misinformation. Here's a list of recent fact-checks related to the 2020 election:
Election Day debunks
Pennsylvania officials did not "attempt to silence voters" exposed to COVID-19 by telling them via letter they can't vote in person. Letters have been sent to Pennsylvanians exposed to the coronavirus since the beginning of the pandemic, and the letter makes no mention of the election.
A poll watcher was turned away from a Philadelphia polling station due to a legal misunderstanding, but he was allowed back in after the mistake was recognized. This appears to be an isolated incident.
A Facebook post made on Oct. 13 about a voting holdup in Fayette County, Kentucky, was shared as if it was made on Nov. 3. While there was a brief hold up in voting the day the post was created, the Fayette County clerk said the delay was mischaracterized in the post – and the timing of the post's share is misleading.
Voting machines did go down in several polling districts in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the morning of Election Day, but all machines were up and running in under 2.5 hours. The video, labeled "BREAKING," was shared several hours after the issues were fixed.
The image at hand does not show a massive wall in front of the White House; it's fabricated from a 2009 image. The National Park Service confirmed the photo does not resemble the actual fencing at the White House that federal authorities did put up.
There's no evidence bricks were purposely staged in Detroit to incite violence. Detroit police and the owner of a local construction company confirmed the bricks photographed are for construction projects.
Despite the post's claims, all Americans, including Democrats, must vote on or before Election Day. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked by that day.
On counting votes
A typo by a local Michigan county accounts for a sudden increase in Biden votes. The error was quickly corrected, and framing the incident as evidence of fraud is a gross mischaracterization.
Mail-in ballots take longer to count, so many states counted overnight. Reports of counting delays or stoppages were either explained or false.
The vote tally in Wisconsin jumped at 3:30 a.m. on Nov. 4 because that's when officials finished counting the city of Milwaukee's absentee ballots, a group of votes expected to lean heavily left. It's false to call the spike in the voting count fraud.
Some of the state's election results arrived late due to an influx of mail-in ballots, not because officials took a break. And President-elect Joe Biden never held a large lead there.
None of the seven key states left in play on Nov. 4 were fully Democrat-run, some more than others. And, the time it took to count ballots in each state can be explained by circumstances or state law.
A claim that ongoing ballot counting in Pennsylvania is cheating or fraudulent is false.
There were 100,000 Central Absentee Precinct ballots that were mistakenly entered for Joe Biden in Fairfax County's unofficial election results spreadsheet, but the error was quickly noticed and fixed. The county's spreadsheet has been amended, and the state Board of Election's total votes counted tally never reflected the error
Ballot curing is a legal process that ensures voters who cast their ballots by Election Day have a chance to see their vote counted. It's allowed in many states, and there is no evidence ballot curing was used to commit election fraud in Georgia.
A data entry error by the Associated Press left presidential totals transposed for several minutes, but election officials were not involved. The votes in Rock County were counted following standard procedure.
Voters in line at 8 p.m. on Election Day can legally cast their vote. No judge made this ruling, and an earlier ruling from a federal judge — since upheld by an appeals panel — actually did the opposite, allowing any absentee ballots returned by Nov. 9 to be counted, as long as they were postmarked by Election Day.
On the outcome, past election comparisons
Analyses of the 2020 election results explain Trump's loss to Biden.
In the false map, Gateway Pundit excludes results from Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. President-elect Joe Biden won all six states, and all six have certified their results.
Biden legally won the popular vote and obtained enough electoral votes to claim the win. There's no evidence of voter fraud, despite widespread, unfounded claims.
Biden received more votes than Hillary Clinton in many of the country's major metro areas. The claims that the four swing states listed are led by Democrats and that votes exceeded the number of voters registered in those states are also false.
The claim references unproven and falsified allegations to support statements about flipping votes in battleground states from Biden to Trump. There is no evidence to support claims of cheating, outstanding software glitches or illegal voting in the 2020 presidential election.
With over 81 million votes, Biden received the most votes of any presidential candidate in history. It is also true that he won a record-low number of counties – but counties vary by population size, so those wins don't correlate with the popular vote.
People vote, not places, and Biden won the most populous counties in the country, according to a Census Bureau report. It's also disingenuous to suggest Biden's small campaign events indicated a lack of support, given the ongoing viral pandemic.
The Trump campaign disregarded many COVID-19 precautions and hosted large crowds, while Biden made following coronavirus guidelines central to his efforts. Biden's lack of crowds does not translate to a lack of support from voters, but rather a consistent adherence to pandemic safety guidelines.
Based on our research, the claim that the New York Post published a cover and staff editorial urging President Trump to accept defeat is true; the items were published in print and online on Dec. 27.
On calling states, certifying votes
The claim that blue states were called immediately, while red states were not is false. Of the first 25 states called by the Associated Press, 14 were for Trump. There's also no evidence vote counting was paused to "find" ballots.
The five states still not called on Nov. 5 still had unreported votes outstanding. None of those states had elected new Republican senators when the post was made, though some races appear as if they may eventually.
The votes still uncounted when Trump had his short-lived lead were largely absentee ballots from major cities. Those cities have consistently voted Democratic historically, and mail-in votes within them should be expected to lean even more that direction since Trump had attacked that method of voting leading up to the election while Biden encouraged it.
A spokesperson for CNN said the news network never called Arizona for Biden, and USA TODAY found no evidence indicating otherwise.
The board of canvassers did initially split in a 2-2 vote, officials reversed course a few hours later and certified election results in Wayne County based on the condition that a comprehensive audit be conducted on precincts with out-of-balance tallies.
Sidney Powell did make the claim that Trump won the election "by a landslide," the assertion is false. Joe Biden is the president-elect after having garnered enough electoral votes as a result of the popular vote across the country earlier this month.
The statement regarding allegations that votes were changed by a signature verification machine was made by the former attorney general of Nevada, a Republican and co-chairman of the Nevada Trump campaign, and not by current Attorney General Aaron Ford, a Democrat.
Real Clear Politics never called Pennsylvania or switched it from Biden as many social media posts claim, according to its co-founder and president, Tom Bevan, as well as its Washington bureau chief, Carl M. Cannon.
Epoch Times, Gateway Pundit, and EveryLegalVote.com show a different electoral vote count for two reasons: They exclude states with pending litigation or recounts, subtracting votes from Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Arizona, and in one case Virginia, from Biden. They also called North Carolina for Trump, though the state was not done counting as of publication time and has not been called by the Associated Press. Their counts are incorrect.
While all presidential elections have the potential to be decided in the House of Representatives under the Constitution, the post fails to mention key steps needed in order for the election to go to the House. Even if the election results were contested and Trump doesn't concede, experts have agreed that it is unlikely for Trump to win the election this way.
The false claim that Donald Trump received 410 electoral votes and Joe Biden received 128 is based on false reports that the U.S. Army seized servers with election information on them in a recent raid in Germany.
A Wisconsin Legislature bill would prioritize legislation addressing election laws. But it says nothing related to decertification or awarding the state to Trump. And in any case, the state’s electoral votes were already cast for Biden weeks ago. The claim is false.
A claim that President-elect Joe Biden is stepping down because of health concerns is false, the news report that makes the statement is faked.
On Jan. 3, the Washington Post broke the news of an hourlong call in which President Donald Trump asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find 11,780 votes." Since then, Trump has doubled down on his baseless claims of electoral fraud, while Democrats have expressed outrage.
On voter registration, turnout
The number for registered Wisconsin voters stated by a Facebook image is incorrect. Over 3.6 million voters were registered in the state as of Nov. 1, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which denied there being more ballots than registered voters.
Turnout is measured as a percentage of eligible voters, not registered voters. Donald Trump Jr.’s figures use eligible voters for the 2016 figure but registered voters for 2020. Using the proper denominator for 2020 shows a turnout around 72%, firmly in the range of past presidential elections.
The numbers cited by Milwaukee City Wire do not match data from the Milwaukee County clerk’s office, which show the number of registered voters exceeded ballots cast.
The pipe leak happened early in the morning of Nov. 3, while ballot counting without monitors took place Nov. 4 and was not related to the pipe incident.
The claim cites correct vote totals for Trump (74 million) and Biden (81 million), but it falsely reports the number of registered voters. More than 159 million registered voters cast ballots in the general election, out of 239 million eligible voters.
The repeated initials referred to in the claim aren’t those of a voter; they’re initials of the clerk who issued the absentee ballots.
The original image is from a 2017 event where Trump spoke about deregulation goals and cut a ribbon across stacks of paper that represented current regulations and 1960 regulations.
Updated data and individual state reporting show no state had more than 100% voter turnout for the 2020 election. The implication that Democrats doctored election results to show higher turnout than possible is based off outdated data that has since been updated.
The statistics in the social media posts are inaccurate – possibly because they came from an article that cited returns before the full vote count was in. However, it is true that among the three Arizona counties that overlap the Navajo Nation, the vote went 58% to Biden and 42% to Trump, with some individual precincts on the Navajo Nation up to 90% for Biden.
Voting in federal elections is reserved for U.S. citizens and few noncitizens knowingly register to vote. The claim that voter turnout from noncitizens affected the popular vote in the 2020 presidential race in battleground states is plausible but unproven.
The Voting Rights Act ensures language assistance to individuals not proficient in English by providing electoral material and other information in their native language. Gwinnett County meets the thresholds to require electoral material in another language due to its sizable Latino or Hispanic population. Single ballots are thus printed on two sheets, one in English and one in Spanish, which are both counted in the county's election summary results and cannot be omitted under federal law.
Our research of the official vote tally shows the assertion that only 4.5 million votes were cast is wrong, rendering moot any issue about a purported half-million or more "extra" votes. The vote totals for two gubernatorial candidates are correct for the time the claim was made, but they are incomplete, missing three candidates. Any suggestions of fraud are baseless
The screenshot showing a number of third-party presidential candidates leading at the polls in Kentucky depicts fake election results. Kanye West has not received 40,000 votes in Kentucky.
The claim that four townships in Michigan logged 290,000 more votes than there are people is false. Voter turnout data shows no township in Michigan had more than 100% turnout for the 2020 presidential election. There were some cases of errors in voter turnout rates, however, the errors were fixed, and there is no evidence that four townships logged more votes than there are people.
On election technology
A national election security coalition announced on Thursday that "there is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised." Other experts and Dominion itself also condemned the claims.
It is true that Nancy's Pelosi's former chief of staff is a lobbyist for Dominion Voting Systems, which supplied the election software in Michigan and other states. But Republicans have lobbying ties to Dominion, as well, making this claim partly false.
State and local election officials and a spokesperson for Dominion explain such manipulation is not possible. Our research uncovered no evidence to support the claim.
Neither Dominion nor Smartmatic has closed in the aftermath of the election and their CEOs are not "on the run."
State and local elections officials have denied the claim and explained that a 37-vote difference was the result of a human tabulation error, not the fault of Dominion.
Archived and current versions of Dominion Voting System's logo show that the company's actual logo is a red ballot going into a red ballot box, suggesting the image in posts online is a doctored version of the authentic logo.
The Buckeye Police Department confirmed that the bus contained "office equipment," not voting machines.
There is no familial relationship between Joe Biden's relatives with the last name Owens and Stephen Owens, the co-founder of a private equity firm that acquired Dominion Voting Systems in 2018.
Hugo Chávez did not found Dominion Voting Systems, nor does his family own a stake of the company. Dominion was founded in Canada in 2003 and its majority owner is Staple Street Capital, which is based in New York.
Claims of discarded, destructed ballots
Instagram user @omg_seabass, who claimed to be an Erie County poll worker, is not in any way associated with the county, and the claim has been denied by Carl J. Anderson III, the chair of Erie County's Board of Elections. Additionally, poll workers do not have access to marked-up ballots in a way that would allow disposal.
City officials in Virginia Beach, Virginia, have confirmed that a video shows sample ballots. There is no evidence that ballots burning in a viral video were real ballots.
It is true that nine military ballots were incorrectly discarded in a dumpster — seven of which were cast for President Donald Trump — were incorrectly discarded in a dumpster, but the incident was an error by a contractor, not evidence of cheating. The Pennsylvania secretary of state also stated that the situation was not "intentional fraud."
It’s true that stolen ballots were found under a rock in Arizona. But the ballots had not yet been opened or filled out, and all 18 of the stolen ballots were returned to the voters three days prior to Election Day.
A company confirmed that the video is of printing waste, not ballots that were not delivered. The applications are blank, not "for Trump."
Seven discarded ballots for Trump were found in Pennsylvania after an error by a temporary contractor, not the U.S. Postal Service. Based on our research, the claim that a photo shows mail-in ballots cast for President Donald Trump discarded on the side of a road is false, and our research did not reveal discarded Trump ballots in California or Texas.
Sonoma County officials confirmed that the photos on social media are of old empty envelopes from the November 2018 election and were recycled after the state's mandated 22-month ballot preservation period.
On absentee, early voting
A QAnon-adjacent conspiracy theory claims President Donald Trump had mail-in ballots secretly watermarked to prove Democrats committed fraud, but federal officials and ballot printers confirmed to USA TODAY that's impossible. Mail-in ballots are designed by local governments and ordered from private printers.
The claim that the Wisconsin Election Commission may have violated state law by allowing clerks to "fix" ballots is missing context, because the policy in question has been in place since 2016, without objection, was brought forth by Republicans and was unanimously passed by a nonpartisan commission.
Some states won't count ballots received after Election Day, but many have extensions that allow for ballots to arrive and be counted after Nov. 3.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer told voters to deliver their ballots in person, but she never explicitly told voters not to mail their ballots. At the time the claim was made, on Oct. 19, experts nationwide concurred that it was too late to rely on the mail to deliver ballots on time.
Absentee ballots had to be received by the time polls closed on Election Day to be counted, and all state election results were reported by the early morning hours of Nov. 4. Pease’s claims relate to actions allegedly taken Nov. 4 and 5. Whatever happened to ballots then, no one was going to count and include them, so this claim is missing context.
Reed was arrested for modifying 300 absentee ballot applications, not 400 ballots, that signed voters up for the Democratic primary without their consent during the June 2020 primary. Election officials were aware of the matter and were able to send voters new applications. No candidates were pre-marked, as the posts claim.
Numbers from the Pennsylvania Department of State show that over 2.6 million mail in ballots had been counted and over 3 million voters requested mail ballots by the Oct. 27 deadline. The false figure used in the claim originates from the number of mail in ballots requested for the Pennsylvania primary election or the number of registered Democrats that requested a mail ballot.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that officials can reject ballots that aren't properly enclosed in the required envelopes, and the state's secretary of state further confirmed the information is in an online voter guide. This claim is true.
On poll workers, challengers and electors
County officials confirmed that workers were fixing damaged ballots and the video has been manipulated to crop out bipartisan observers who witnessed the process. The damaged ballots have been preserved, and Pennsylvania's Election Code states damaged ballots must be duplicated.
Viral videos depict crowds of challengers stuck outside Detroit's TCF Center as election workers count ballots inside behind obstructed windows. Statements from officials and witnesses clarify that Republican challengers were not more frequently denied entry, and the TCF Center's windows were covered because election workers felt intimidated.
The quotes from FEC Chair Trey Trainor are real and came from an interview with Newsmax. But he's not the "top boss of all the election officials," and the FEC's jurisdiction isn't related to vote counting or election security — only campaign finances. The post's claims are partly false, true only in that Trainor expressed his opinion about the election.
It is true the Constitution grants state legislatures the power to choose electors for the Electoral College. But it is false to suggest that legislatures retain this authority after a popular vote on Election Day. A "safe harbor" provision of the Electoral Count Act dictates changing the slate of electors after election day is a violation of federal law.
Claims of dead voters
While the screenshots posted to social media are real and can be replicated, Michigan’s Secretary of State's office debunked the claim as “misinformation,” and USA TODAY found evidence to support that.
The report of a lawsuit alleging errors in Detroit voter rolls was accurate, but the posts fail to note that the case was filed in December and settled in June. It was not an issue in the 2020 election.
There is no evidence to support this, and numerous election and county officials have confirmed that there is no evidence that dead people voted in Philadelphia.
The list has been investigated and it was found that some individuals on the list were either still alive, or not living in Michigan. Other examples cited were the result of date of birth errors. Ballots cast by dead people in Michigan are rejected and there is no evidence of fraud.
While Pennsylvania’s ballot tracker does show a recorded mail-in ballot for a Denise Ondick, county officials have yet to determine this was an instance of voter fraud. Moreover, experts say voter fraud involving the deceased is rare.
About 500,000 voters in Virginia were sent vote-by-mail applications, not an actual ballot, that included incorrect return addresses. In Nevada, ballots for the primary election were returned due to a change of address. Election officials have not mailed absentee ballots in Nevada. Virginia started mailing absentee ballots on Sept. 18.
Multiple election officials confirmed that filling out ballots with a blue or black Sharpie is acceptable – and in some cases, even "preferred."
The Maricopa County Elections Department confirmed that Sharpies are preferred for filling out ballots. Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs has also confirmed that ballots marked with Sharpie pens would be counted.
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