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Haley BeMiller
By Haley BeMiller November 5, 2020

Milwaukee wards did not have more votes for president than registered voters

If Your Time is short

  • The website is one of several purported local news sites run by a conservative businessman who’s been criticized for companies that produce what some call "pink-slime journalism."

  • In fact, the seven Milwaukee wards cited in the article had more registered voters than ballots cast.

  • And the state Elections Commission has emphasized that it’s not possible for more ballots to exist than registered voters.

Many political eyes are on Wisconsin after Democratic nominee Joe Biden narrowly won the state, which was the first one to flip parties in a contentious presidential race that’s still too close to call. 

The increased attention has led to a surge in misinformation about the state’s election process. 

One popular — and very false — claim is that the battleground state had more ballots cast than registered voters. An online article shared widely on social media narrowed that claim to Milwaukee, the state’s largest city and a Democratic stronghold.

"Seven Milwaukee wards report more 2020 presidential votes than registered voters," stated a Nov. 4, 2020 article from Milwaukee City Wire

City Wire later updated the article, but not before an array of other purported news sources echoed the same supposed finding. Those posts remained online after City Wire updated its post the afternoon of Nov. 5. The claim also got some increased attention after a tweet from Sean Hannity.

This article was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook). 

Bottom line: It’s wrong. Very wrong.

The source

Before we get into the claim itself, here’s a refresher on City Wire. 

The website is one of several purported local news sites run by Metric Media Publications. In Wisconsin, the company operates 24 web pages including "Green Bay Reporter" and "Fon du Lac News," which notably misspells the city name of Fond du Lac. 

The Columbia Journalism Review reported the network relies heavily on algorithmically-generated stories and can be traced to conservative businessman Brian Timpone. His former company, Journatic, drew outrage in 2012 for plagiarism, fake bylines and fake quotes in what was dubbed "pink slime journalism."

Back in August, we looked at an "analysis" from the website about Biden’s school choice policy and determined it was False. 

Now, onto the latest claim.

Milwaukee’s voting numbers

The crux of the headline centered around seven wards on Milwaukee’s southwest side. The unnamed writers of the article claimed to use data showing the number of ballots cast for the presidential race in these wards exceeded the number of registered voters.

There are a few problems here. The first: The numbers were completely incorrect.

Here are the unofficial results in those wards as reported by the Milwaukee County clerk’s office (election results aren’t final until officials complete canvassing):

Whether you look at total ballots cast in each ward or just those cast for Biden and Trump, the amount does not exceed the total number of registered voters. 

(Quick note: Votes for Biden and Trump don’t add up to total ballots cast because there were other candidates for president, and some people may not have voted in that race.)

Milwaukee Election Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel it wasn’t clear where the numbers in the article came from. She said the reporting software from the city and county reflect different numbers than what City Wire published.

For instance, the article said Ward 274 cast 1,290 votes for Biden and Trump when the number was actually only 593. 

City Wire also cited the Wisconsin Secretary of State’s office as the source of the data. But, unlike in some other states, that office in Wisconsin is not involved in the state’s elections and therefore doesn’t collect election data. 

"My office coworkers who first saw that and called it to my attention and I have no idea what they’re talking about because we have no such records," said Secretary of State Doug La Follette, whose small office focuses on authenticating official documents with the state seal.

City Wire published an updated article with an editor’s note on Nov. 5, 2020 that said Milwaukee County updated voter registration data and voting tallies for nine wards after the original version was published shortly after 3 p.m. on Nov. 4.

But that's untrue. An archived version of the county election results showed the wards in question had accurate results posted as of 9:48 a.m. Wednesday, hours before the first version of this story published. This is also confirmed by the timestamp on the county website, which notes it was last updated at 3:56 a.m. Nov. 4.

On a broader scale, the Wisconsin Elections Commission has emphasized that it’s simply not possible for there to be more ballots than registered voters. Wisconsin allows people to register at the polls on Election Day. 

"There are never more ballots than registered voters," the commission tweeted on Nov. 4, 2020

Our ruling

A widely-shared online article said "seven Milwaukee wards report more 2020 presidential votes than registered voters."

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. Moreover, it’s simply not possible for there to be more ballots than voters.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire.

Our Sources

PolitiFact, No, Wisconsin doesn’t have more ballots cast than registered voters, Nov. 4, 2020.

Sean Hannity, Twitter, Nov. 5, 2020.

Metric Media LLC, accessed Nov. 5, 2020.

Columbia Journalism Review, Hundreds of ‘pink slime’ local news outlets are distributing algorithmic stories and conservative talking points, Dec. 18, 2019.

Media Nation, Exposing the "‘pink slime’ journalism" of Journatic, July 5, 2020.

PolitiFact, No, Joe Biden can't ban school choice vouchers in Wisconsin, Aug. 14, 2020.

City of Milwaukee, City of Milwaukee Redistricting Final Voting Wards, accessed Nov. 5, 2020.

Milwaukee County Clerk, November 3, 2020 - General and Presidential Election Unofficial Results, accessed Nov. 5, 2020.

Wisconsin Elections Commission, Twitter, Nov. 4, 2020., Milwaukee County election results as of 9:48 a.m. Nov. 4

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel interview with Claire Woodall-Vogg, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, Nov. 5, 2020.

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Milwaukee wards did not have more votes for president than registered voters

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