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Vote totals shared by news outlets on Election Day are not official results.
Those numbers can change sharply when large counties report their vote totals. Some counties have dramatically more Democratic or Republican voters.
One anomaly showing a spike of 1 million votes, and later a similar drop, for Illinois Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth was the result of a typo in data entry by Edison Research, which supplies Election Day data to news outlets.
MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, an ardent supporter of former President Donald Trump, has shared numerous debunked conspiracy theories that the 2020 election was stolen.
Lindell shared graphs from four elections on his Instagram page, and also showed those graphs and others in videos on his Frank Speech website. He said in the Instagram posts that the graphs showing sharp changes in vote totals are evidence those elections are being stolen.
But his claims show a misunderstanding of how election vote totals are reported, experts said. And one graphic Lindell shared that showed a 1 million vote rise and fall for a Democrat in an Illinois U.S. Senate race was simply the result of a data entry error, according to the private company that provided the data.
"Mike’s bizarre crusade is not how elections work and not how numbers work," said Robert Sinners, a spokesperson for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and a former campaign operative for Trump.
Lindell also singled out the crucial U.S. Senate race in Georgia between incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker, a race so tight it is headed to a December runoff.
Lindell shared a graphic on Instagram and in a video showing Warnock receiving a sharp spike in votes around 9 p.m.
"They are currently stealing Herschel Walkers race with the machines!" he wrote on Instagram.
"Oh wow, look at this everybody. This is real-time crime, our first one of the night," Lindell said in the video, which shows the graph at about the 43:00 mark. "This is exciting. They are caught!"
The graphs Lindell showed were created from a website called Drazabot 2022, where you can search results from any election and see how the race unfolded throughout the count. Lindell told PolitiFact that the graphs used data provided by Edison Research to CNN. Edison Research is a private company that provides unofficial election results to CNN, CBS News, ABC News and NBC News and other news organizations.
The graphic Lindell shared shows Warnock receiving an increase of more than 200,000 votes about 9 p.m., while Walker received about 93,000 votes.
There’s a simple explanation for that, said Sinners, with the Georgia secretary of state’s office.
"In Georgia, we call a 9 p.m. upload toward one candidate ‘the Atlanta metro has reported,’" Sinners told PolitiFact.
"Here’s to our largest counties getting it done early and accurately," he added.
Rob Farbman, Edison Research’s executive vice president, also said the Georgia data changes at 9 p.m. merely show Fulton County, which is home to Atlanta, "reporting its vote."
Lindell "seems to be finding moments when large population Democratic-leaning counties report their vote so he can call it fraud," Farbman said.
Farbman also noted that a similar spike in votes for Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz that Lindell used as an example of a stolen election occurred when Hennepin County, home to Minneapolis, reported its vote.
Hennepin, the state’s largest county, voted for Walz by a wide margin, keeping with historical precedent, Cassondra Knudson, a Minnesota secretary of state's office spokesperson, told PolitiFact.
Lindell told PolitiFact that his claims about stolen elections are not a "Democrat or Republican thing" but an effort to get rid of electronic voting machines. He said, without evidence, that the machines are part of a "uni-party, deep-state globalist, (Chinese Communist Party) manipulation" of U.S. elections.
"The endgame here is we have to get rid of the electronic computers," Lindell said.
As evidence of bipartisan problems, he pointed to a Georgia Democratic primary in May where a Board of Commissioners candidate was shown as having received very few votes on Election Day. After the candidate, Michelle Long Spears, alerted authorities, officials discovered she had actually received 3,792 votes that day.
"She went from third place to first place," Lindell said.
But Georgia election officials said it was an isolated case, and they blamed a series of human and technical errors, according to a New York Times report.
Lindell also pointed to problems with voting tabulators in Arizona’s Maricopa County that hindered the voting process early on Nov. 8. That glitch did not prevent anyone from voting or their vote from being counted.
Problems, human or technical, are not unusual on Election Day, and officials have contingency plans for when they happen, Tammy Patrick, an elections expert at the Democracy Fund, told PolitiFact.
Another Lindell post showed a large spike of about 1 million votes for incumbent Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth at about 10:45 p.m. Eastern Standard Time in her Illinois U.S. Senate race against Republican challenger Kathy Salvi. The chart shows the votes for Duckworth then dropping by the same number an hour later. "Million vote spike and the only explanation is corrupt electronic voting machines," Lindell wrote on Instagram.
"How did they explain a 1 million vote drop?" asked Lindell, referring to Edison. "We had one (where) 1 million votes were given to one candidate and then they go, ‘uh-oh, we gave too many to them,’ and they took off the million one hour later."
Edison’s Farbman said that the spike was the result of a typo during data entry that was later corrected. The typo happened long after the race had already been called for Duckworth by Edison, CNN, CBS, Fox and NBC, he said.
Errors are also not uncommon in reporting from local elections offices, the Election Integrity Partnership tweeted in a lengthy thread about Lindell’s claims. The partnership is a collaboration of researchers whose goal is empowering stakeholders to defend elections.
"Initial errors in reporting are common in the U.S. with a decentralized reporting structure across thousands of localities," the partnership noted in one tweet. There are often mistakes in reporting that are fixed later, it said.
Matt Dietrich, an Illinois State Board of Elections spokesperson, said, "Illinois has no official statewide vote count on election night. Any numbers reported from now until we certify the results on Dec. 5 are unofficial."
Paul Gronke, director of the Elections & Voting Information Center at Reed College, said none of the information Lindell shared is an example of malfeasance or fraud.
"Ballots are not processed simultaneously. Anyone with even the most basic knowledge of election administration knows this," Gronke said. "Ballots are processed in batches. These batches can contain different mixes of Election Day, early in-person and by-mail ballots."
Gronke said the reports we see on election night and the following days generally start with early in-person votes and ballots delivered before Election Day, followed by Election Day votes then mail votes delivered on or close to Election Day.
The mail counting depends on when states allow for pre-processing of ballots, and how many voters return those ballots at the last-minute, he said.
"With that as a background, I see nothing in the information provided that indicates anything other than the vote counting on election night proceeded as expected," Gronke said. "The 'spikes' in the graphics are caused by particular counties processing particular batches of ballots and then reporting the results."
Phone interview with Mike Lindell, Nov. 10, 2022
Mike Lindell, Instagram post about Michigan, Nov. 9, 2022
Mike Lindell, Instagram post about Minnesota, Nov. 9, 2022
Mike Lindell, Instagram post about Illinois Nov. 9, 2022
Mike Lindell, Instagram post about Georgia Nov. 9, 2022
Frank Speech, "2022 Election Coverage Night - Part 6," Nov. 8, 2022
Frank Speech, "2022 Election Coverage Night - Part 4," Nov. 8, 2022
Email exchange with Robert Sinners, a spokesperson for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Nov. 10, 2022
Email exchange with Rob Farbman, executive vice president for Edison Research, Nov. 10, 2022
Email exchange with Paul Gronke, director of the Elections & Voting Information Center at Reed College, Nov. 10, 2022
Email exchange with Matt Dietrich, a spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Elections, Nov. 10, 2022
Election Integrity Partnership, Twitter thread, Nov. 10, 2022
Smartmatic, "Lawsuit Updates & Fact Checks," accessed Nov. 10, 2022
Dominion Voting Systems, "Legal updates," accessed Nov. 10, 2022
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Sinners’ reformation: Ex-Trump staffer turns to Georgia elections job," Oct. 25, 2022
The New York Times, "A candidate in Georgia who appeared to get few Election Day votes was actually in first place," June 6, 2022