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We fact-checked misinformation about the midterm elections, from Maricopa County to Detroit
An election worker boxes tabulated ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorders Office on Nov. 9, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York) An election worker boxes tabulated ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorders Office on Nov. 9, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

An election worker boxes tabulated ballots inside the Maricopa County Recorders Office on Nov. 9, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

By Jeff Cercone November 9, 2022

The midterm elections appeared to run fairly smoothly, despite minor problems at some polling places that were quickly addressed by local election officials.

But that didn’t stop some conservative figures, including former President Donald Trump, from using those problems to spread false claims about people being unable to vote.

In Arizona’s Maricopa County, a printing snag at  about a quarter of the county’s polling locations caused vote tabulators not to accept some voters’ paper ballots. The issue didn’t prevent anyone from voting; people could vote at other locations or drop their ballots in a bin to be counted later. 

"No one here in Maricopa County has ever claimed there is such a thing as a perfect election," said Bill Gates, the county’s Board of Supervisors chairman and a Republican, as he explained that no voters were turned away from the polls.

Other minor issues were reported in Detroit and in Mercer County, New Jersey, but voters were still able to cast ballots there as well.

"Every election we see sporadic issues arise across the country: printing problems, equipment malfunctions, janitors who fail to unlock the doors to polling places on time, poll workers who fail to show up for work," said Tammy Patrick, an elections expert at the Democracy Fund, which gives grants to entities that support democracy work. "These issues tend to be isolated and limited in scale."

Because such common issues can happen at any polling location, election officials have contingency plans in place, Patrick said, adding "there is a reason that there is a ‘door No. 3’ auxiliary ballot bin available in polling locations in Arizona."

Patrick said the auxiliary ballot bins were used in Mercer County and in Nebraska when a polling location lost power.

But Trump and Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake seized on the Maricopa County glitch to sow doubt about the election’s integrity.

"There’s a lot of bad things going on," Trump said in a video posted to Truth Social, urging Maricopa County voters to stay in line at polling stations. "They want to delay you out of voting."

Lake spoke about the Maricopa County issues at a news conference early in the day, saying "This is not normal stuff. We don’t have to have elections run this way." 

Around the country, other dubious claims related to the midterms sprung up on social media this week. Here’s how we rated them.

Arizona

• A social media user gave a stark warning to voters affected when Maricopa County experienced its printing glitch. Voters affected had three options: leave and vote at the nearest polling place, keep trying until the vote tabulator accepted their ballots or place their ballots in a slot marked No. 3 on the side of the machines for later counting. 

A tweet urged voters not to choose the third option, writing that "there is no chain of custody" for the ballots placed there. That’s simply not true. Officials said the ballots placed in the slots would be treated the same as ballots from early voting, following the same chain of custody protocol that relies on participation of people from both parties.

• Fox News host Tucker Carlson also used the issue to falsely claim that "electronic voting machines didn’t allow people to vote" in Maricopa County.

• Conservative commentator Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, falsely claimed that Maricopa County intentionally reduced the number of polling places. The number of polling locations has increased by 48 since the 2020 election.

• Supporters of Kari Lake in the Arizona governor’s race claimed a photo showed her opponent, Katie Hobbs, who is also that state’s Secretary of State, in the room where ballots were being counted. But the woman in the image was not Hobbs. "Not every woman with glasses is Katie Hobbs," the county tweeted. "We can confirm this was a party observer."

Illinois

• Sharpie pens are allowed to fill out ballots in Illinois, despite claims by some. In fact, they are the preferred pen for ballot-marking devices, elections officials said.

Michigan

• Trump falsely claimed that voters in Detroit were being told they had already voted. At some Detroit polling places, a computer glitch showed incorrectly that some voters had already been issued absentee ballots. Election workers were able to work around what the Detroit Department of Elections called "a harmless data error," and all eligible voters were able to vote.

• MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell made a Pants on Fire claim on Instagram when he said that the Michigan attorney general election was "stolen in the middle of the night" from Republican candidate Matt DePerno. Democratic incumbent Dana Nessel won reelection, according to unofficial results, and DePerno conceded the race.

• A photo in Detroit does not show "late-night operatives moving van-loads of suspicious ballots" after the legal deadline. The deadline for voters to deliver absentee ballots to one of 20 drop boxes in Detroit was 8 p.m. on Election Day. It is standard procedure for election workers to drive around the city to collect them. They then bring the ballots to elections departments to be timestamped. Then they are delivered to the convention center to be counted. It’s "a time-consuming process because of the size of the city," an elections official told PolitiFact.

• A line graph tracking election results in Michigan showing spikes for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is not evidence of fraud. Some counties voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic incumbent.

Minnesota

• Lindell made a second Pants on Fire! claim, alleging that the Minnesota gubernatorial election was stolen from Republican candidate Scott Jensen because a late surge of votes favored incumbent Democrat Tim Walz. That surge came when Minnesota’s largest county, Hennepin County, reported its election results, which widely favored Walz. Jensen conceded defeat.

Nevada

• Trump said that election results in Nevada and Arizona were delayed because those places "want more time to cheat." We rated this claim Pants on Fire! Election results take time to count and the process is affected by the number of mail-in ballots and state laws for counting votes.

New Mexico

• A website for New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse last month showed results for the Nov. 8 election and more than 17 million votes cast. That caused one social media user to cry foul, since the state has a population of about 2 million people. A Toulouse spokesperson said that number came while the website was being tested, and not meant to show actual data. An archived version of the website shows a disclaimer that there was "testing in progress."

New York

• A New York man falsely blamed Democrats when a machine didn’t accept his ballot to be counted, but he was actually putting his ballot in the wrong machine. He tried to insert it into an Automark machine, which is an assistive ballot marking device, not a ballot tabulator.

• A map appearing to show identical vote counts for the New York gubernatorial candidates in multiple counties did not reflect the race’s true results and does not prove fraud. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul was re-elected and her Republican opponent, Lee Zeldin, conceded the race Nov. 9.

Pennsylvania

• A Facebook post wrongly said Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ordered the state to finish counting ballots on Election Day. The court ruled Nov. 1 that counties must segregate and refrain from counting any absentee and mail-in ballots that have undated or incorrectly dated outer envelopes. The ruling didn’t mention a timeline or deadline for counting ballots. Counties have until 5 p.m. Nov. 15 to submit unofficial returns to the state.

• Trump spun the court’s ruling in a different way, saying the court "ruled, in effect, that the 2020 presidential election was rigged." The ruling did not change the 2020 results that showed more Pennsylvanians voted for Joe Biden than for Trump. Trump’s claim is Pants on Fire.

• A lawsuit filed by Democrat John Fetterman about that Supreme Court ruling urging counties to count those undated ballots was falsely characterized as an attempt to "cheat and steal the election." Any party has the right to file lawsuits over ballots in an election and both Democrats and Republicans have done so. That is not an example of fraud.

• A tweet stated that a Pennsylvania judge allowed the state to count votes received up until Nov. 14. But that’s not true. Mail-in ballots needed to be received by 8 p.m. on Nov. 8 in order to count.

• A video showing an elections worker marking ballots was used to allege fraud in Philadelphia. But the video was shot in Madison, Wisconsin, not Philadelphia, and shows a worker circling ballot ward numbers and initialing them. That’s part of Dane County’s ballot verification process.

• An image shown on the conservative network RSBN shows Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro with less than half as many votes as Republican Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania. It also showed Shapiro as leading with 56.6% of the vote. That was a mistake by the network, not evidence of fraud, as many on social media alleged.

• Mehmet Oz, Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, has a national following because of his syndicated talk show. As a result, he has almost a million more Instagram followers than eventual winner Fetterman. Some claimed that it proves the election was fraudulent. But social media follows are not votes. If they were, Beto O’Rourke would have beaten Texas incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, since the Instagram follows for those two candidates are similar.

• An Election Day map showing more counties in Pennsylvania red than blue is not evidence that Oz actually beat Fetterman. The maps account for land mass, not population.

• Anthony DeLuca, a Democrat and Pennsylvania’s longest-serving state representative, died on Oct. 9, a month before Election Day. The deadline to replace a candidate on the ballot had passed, and voters overwhelmingly voted for DeLuca. That’s not evidence of fraud. The seat will be filled with a special election.

Texas

• An Instagram video circulated days before the Nov. 8 election gave the false impression that Republicans were being kept from voting at an unnamed polling place. The video was from the March primary in Houston. At issue was a shortage of poll workers, not an attempt to keep Republicans from voting. In that state’s primary elections, each party provides its own poll workers. Democratic voters were also diverted to other polling locations for the same reason.

• Early calls in races in Bexar County, Texas, are not evidence of "major fraud!" Nearly 72% of the votes there were cast by mail ballots or early voting, officials said. Those returns were reported before all precinct-level Election Day results were in, leading some candidates to concede or call races without all votes having been reported.

Around the country

• Delays in counting ballots are not proof of voter fraud, a claim we’ve debunked a few times since the rise of mail balloting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each state has its own laws about when the counting of mail ballots can begin, and that can slow the counting process.

• A persistent claim that billionaire philanthropist George Soros has sway over voting machines used in U.S. elections resurfaced before Election Day. But Soros neither owns nor invests in any companies that make voting machines, his spokesperson said. 

• A Facebook post falsely alleged fraud because "mostly Democrats vote early." More than 40 million people voted early in the midterms — in person or by mail — but that’s not evidence of fraud by Democrats. In Florida and Louisiana, more Republicans voted early than Democrats.

• An Instagram video from PragerU falsely claimed it’s a sign of fraud that in many U.S. counties there are more registered voters than people who are legally eligible to vote. Experts said that is not a sign of fraud, but rather likely a sign of voter roll maintenance issues, and that "inactive voters" often remain on rolls due to the National Voter Registration Act, which prevents election officials from removing voters from rolls too quickly.

• The Democrats did not use "47 million mail-in ballots" in order to "steal every election in the country." We don’t yet know how many mail-in ballots were cast in the midterms, but voters of both parties use them. Mail-in ballots are not fraudulent and voter fraud is statistically rare.

• Two photos of piles of mail including ballots were shared on Instagram after the midterm election to allege fraud from California to New Mexico. But the photos were from news stories in 2020 and 2021 and the claim originated on a satirical account.

• Election Day glitches in Arizona, New Jersey and Texas were held up as proof that the midterm elections were rigged. But none of the issues cited prevented people from voting and officials in each jurisdiction said that all votes were counted.
• A video that claimed to show a whistleblower creating fraudulent military ballots during the 2020 presidential election was shared widely before the 2022 midterms. The clip doesn’t show the fraudulent creation of real ballots and was a simulation. The people who created it were charged with breaking several federal laws related to voter intimidation.

We will update this story with new work as it is published. It was last updated Nov. 14, 2022.

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We fact-checked misinformation about the midterm elections, from Maricopa County to Detroit