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A voter registration group sent 500,000 applications for absentee ballots — not actual ballots — to Virginia voters. The applications had the wrong elections office return address.
Around 226,000 ballots sent to voters in Clark County, Nev., were returned as undeliverable because the voters no longer lived at the addresses.
In neither case was there evidence of thousands of ballots being sent to dead people and pets.
A false Facebook post states that two battleground states sent huge numbers of ballots to dead people and pets.
"Why isn’t anyone mentioning over 500,000 mail in ballots found in Virginia and 200,000 in Nevada in dead peoples names and pets," stated an Aug. 10 Facebook post shared thousands of times.
This post 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.)
The post twists two news stories. One was a story out of Virginia about mail ballot applications for the Nov. 3 election. And the second was a story out of Nevada about mail ballots sent during the June 9 Nevada primary. Neither state has sent ballots to voters for the Nov. 3 general election and in neither case was there evidence of thousands of ballots being sent to dead people and pets.
The claim about Virginia stems from mailings from the Center for Voter Information, a national voter registration group that describes itself as nonpartisan but was started by a Democratic strategist.
In August, the group sent absentee ballot request applications to 2.2 million voters in Virginia, including about 500,000 that had return envelopes addressed to the wrong elections offices.
The group, which is a partner of the Voter Participation Center, apologized for providing wrong information, and its printer took responsibility. The group said that the error stemmed from confusing some cities and counties with similar names. Election officials around the country have said that the center’s mailings have created confusion, but the group defended its work saying it encouraged voting.
So, how did the inaccurate mailings lead to false posts that claim the 500,000 were sent to "dead people’s names and pets"?
Wake told PolitiFact that she regrets sharing that anecdote. She said she based her comments on something she’d heard from a league member who said she had a friend who received one ballot application for a pet and dead relative.
President Donald Trump chimed in as well:
"Half a million incorrect absentee ballot applications were sent all across the state of Virginia, including to many dead people…," Trump said during a briefing with reporters Aug. 10. "They had some sent to pets — dogs."
Due to the pandemic, Nevada passed a law to send mail ballots to all active voters.
In advance of the June 9 primary, Clark County sent out about 1.3 million ballots. The county, which includes Las Vegas and is the largest in the state, mailed the ballots to addresses provided by voters when they registered. About 226,000 ballots were returned to elections officials because the voters no longer lived there, said Dan Kulin, a spokesperson for the Clark County Election Department.
"This is a common way for us to discover someone has moved," Kulin said.
But the fact that they were returned is not evidence that all of the people had died — nor is it evidence of fraud. In fact, it is a sign that the system worked as designed. Postal workers are not allowed to forward ballots if they have a forwarding address — they are required to return them, said Wayne Thorley, deputy secretary of state for elections.
The state elections office receives daily death data from the state’s vital statistics office. It also gets death data every other month from the Social Security Administration. The state then passes along the data to the counties so that they can remove dead voters from their registration lists. There can be a time lag in updating the rolls.
"If we print the ballot today and a voter dies tomorrow that’s going to get mailed to them," Thorley said. "The voter roll is constantly in flux. You take a snapshot right now, and in 5 minutes it is out of date because somebody moved or passed away."
It’s possible that anecdotal reports fueled misinformation.
A long time postal worker, Jenny Trobiani, told the Las Vegas Review Journal in May that she had never seen such an influx of undeliverable ballots.
"(The recipients) had all moved or died," Trobiani said.
The fact that dead people remain on voter rolls nationwide does not itself equal fraud — it’s only a crime if someone then fills out a ballot in the name of a dead voter and sends it in.
The likelihood that voter fraud can happen because of dead people on the rolls is very low, said Thessalia Merivaki, an expert on voter administration and political science professor at Mississippi State University.
"Election administrators verify a lot of information prior to processing a ballot, be it by mail or in person …," Merivaki said. "The same applies for voter registration. All information is verified, so it is highly unlikely that dead people can register to vote."
States have significantly improved keeping their registration records up to date by joining the national Electronic Registration Information Center, which sends reports to member states showing when voters have moved within their state or out of state, when they have died and flagging when they may have duplicate registrations.
Facebook posts said more than 500,000 mail in ballots in Virginia and 200,000 in Nevada were sent to dead people or pets.
In Virginia, about 500,000 voters received an application for a ballot — not an actual ballot — that included the wrong return address for elections offices. In Nevada, around 226,000 ballots for the primary were returned to Clark County because the voters didn’t live at the address.
In neither case, does that add up to evidence that hundreds of thousands of dead people and pets received ballots.
We rate this claim False.
Facebook post, Aug. 10, 2020
VPM NPR, Voter Registration Group Sends 500,000 Incorrect Forms, Aug. 6, 2020
Virginia elections department, Press release, Aug. 6, 2020
Center for Voter Information, Virginia statement, Aug. 6, 2020
Center for Voter Information, Statement from printer, Aug. 7, 2020
Washington Post, Yes, tons of ballots are sent to dead people. Trump shouldn’t worry about them. Aug. 19, 2020
AP, False claims circulate about mail-in-ballots in Virginia and Nevada, Sept. 3, 2020
Tampa Bay Times, This national group aims to register more voters. Pasco’s elections office has some concerns. Jan. 22, 2020
Florida election supervisors, Letter, April 7, 2020
Washington Post, Mail-in ballot applications in Virginia tap into worries about fraud with faulty instructions, Aug. 6, 2020
NPR, A Big Vote Registration Push Reaches Millions — But Divides Elections Officials, Feb. 13, 2020
White House, Remarks by President Trump in Press Briefing, Aug. 10, 2020
Las Vegas Review-Journal, Primary underway, but argument over mail election continues, May 19, 2020
Center for Voter Information CEO and President, Tom Lopach, Statement to PolitiFact, Sept. 4, 2020
Telephone interview, Dan Kulin, Clark County, Nevada elections spokesperson, Sept. 8, 2020
Telephone interview, Wayne Thorley, deputy Secretary of State for elections, Sept. 4, 2020Email interview, Andrea Gaines, Virginia Department of Elections spokesperson, Sept. 8, 2020
Email interview, Thessalia Merivaki, an expert on voter administration and political science professor at Mississippi State University, Sept. 7, 2020
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