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Voters exit the Clark County Government Center  after voting Feb. 6, 2024, in Las Vegas. (AP) Voters exit the Clark County Government Center  after voting Feb. 6, 2024, in Las Vegas. (AP)

Voters exit the Clark County Government Center after voting Feb. 6, 2024, in Las Vegas. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman February 23, 2024

A Nevada glitch does not equal mail ballot fraud

If Your Time is short

  • A database coding glitch meant that some Nevada voters saw an inaccurate vote history online — showing their mail ballots as counted even if they did not vote —   after the Feb. 6 presidential preference primary.

  • The Nevada secretary of state said the glitch had nothing to do with vote tabulation and did not affect the election results.

  • The secretary of state also said there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Nevada, now or ever.

  • Our mission: Help you be an informed participant in democracy. Learn more.

A Nevada database glitch led to misinformation about the state’s Feb. 6 presidential preference primary and voter fraud.

A Feb. 19 Instagram post shared a screenshot of an X post that says, "Commission on Federal Election Reform, chaired by former President Jimmy Carter found vote by mail to be ‘the largest source of potential voter fraud.’ The media will try to gaslight you into believing there are no issues with it but they are misleading the American people."

The X post shared a link to a Las Vegas Review-Journal article, and text with the article link said, "Numerous Nevada voters looked at their voter history and found that their mail ballots were counted in the recent primary, even though they didn't participate in it." 

(Screengrab from Instagram)

The Instagram post was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

The full Review-Journal article explained that a database coding glitch occurred but did not affect election results. 

In Nevada, all voters receive mail ballots for each election they are qualified to participate in, unless a voter opts out. A majority of voters in Nevada cast ballots by mail.

The Instagram post linked the recent Nevada database glitch to voter fraud, but Nevada election officials said the two are unrelated.  

"I want to be clear that this issue had nothing to do with the tabulation of votes or results of any election," Secretary of State Francisco V. Aguilar, a Democrat, said in a Feb. 22 statement. "There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in our state, now or ever."

Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo, posted Feb. 19 on X, "The voter history glitch on the website does not impact vote tabulation, which happens at the county level," and shared a link to an article with that information. 

Both the Instagram post and the X post it shared were from Sean Parnell, a former Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump before dropping out in 2021. Parnell is a U.S. Army veteran who hosts a podcast.

We asked Parnell to send us evidence that voter fraud occurred in Nevada. He replied in an email that the point of his Instagram post was that "mail in voting is not the best way to conduct an election. It is also not the best way to build confidence in the electorate, the latest issue in Nevada is just one recent example." (Parnell’s full response is linked at the end of this story.)

Other people echoed Parnell’s claim. Elizabeth Helgelien, a Nevada Republican congressional candidate, said in a Feb. 18 X post that her online voter history showed she voted in the primary, although she did not. Helgelien said "voter fraud" appears to be happening in Nevada. 

Nevada secretary of state’s office said glitch occurred 

Nevada held its presidential preference primary Feb. 6. President Joe Biden won the Democratic primary while "none of these candidates" received the most votes in the Republican primary — more than former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Former President Donald Trump did not appear on the ballot because he competed in the caucus instead.

About two weeks after the primary, voters notified the secretary of state’s office that, although they did not participate in the primary, the state’s website showed in their vote history that they had cast mail ballots.

The secretary of state’s office said in a Feb. 21 memo that a miscommunication in computer code caused the glitch, "based on the state and counties interpreting the same data in different ways." 

Nevada has a "bottom-up" voter registration system in which counties send copies of their voter registration files to the state nightly via a secure upload. The state then stitches together 17 files from different systems and combines them into a statewide file.

The counties use the mail ballot code "MB." Until the 10th day after an election, the state database interprets "MB" to mean that a mail ballot has been sent to a voter. After the 10th day, the system interprets the "MB" code to mean the mail ballot was counted.

In prior elections, counties took steps to ensure that this code was applied only to ballots of people who had voted. But some of those steps did not happen after the Feb. 6 presidential preference primary, the memo said.

The coding issue didn’t affect the election results, the memo said. 

Bottom-up systems have not been considered a best practice for decades, and the state will move to a new "top-down" system before this June’s primary election, in accordance with a 2021 law passed by the Legislature. 

Voter fraud occasionally occurs, but on a very small scale and not enough to change the outcome in a presidential election. After Biden won Nevada in the 2020 presidential election, the state’s Republican party shared a story about a Republican voter, Donald Kirk Hartle, who claimed someone cast a mail ballot in his dead wife’s name. Hartle himself later pleaded guilty to one count of voting more than once in an election, because he had cast the ballot in his dead wife’s name. 

The Heritage Foundation’s database of voter fraud shows only one other Nevada voter fraud conviction since 2020. Craig Frank was convicted in 2021 after voting in both Nevada and Arkansas during the 2016 general election.

Parnell also sent us a 2012 New York Times article that said, "While fraud in voting by mail is far less common than innocent errors, it is vastly more prevalent than the in-person voting fraud that has attracted far more attention, election administrators say." The article included anecdotal examples including a woman in Hialeah, Florida, who was charged with forging an elderly voter’s signature and possessing 31 completed absentee ballots, more than allowed under local law.

Election website glitches or clerical errors occasionally have happened in other jurisdictions. But these problems are typically from human error, and do not signal fraud.

Instagram post cherry picks one sentence from 2005 report

The Instagram post says that the "Commission on Federal Election Reform, chaired by former President Jimmy Carter found vote by mail to be ‘the largest source of potential voter fraud.’" 

Republican critics of voting by mail, including Trump, pluck one sentence from a 2005 report Carter co-wrote that said, "absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud."

Although the nearly 20-year-old report generally communicated a dim view of absentee voting, it didn’t call for its elimination. Instead, it recommended ways to improve security and called for further research. 

Since then, security improvements have been implemented, including:

  • Some states have passed laws to limit who can return a mail ballot on behalf of another voter.

  • States have added technologies so voters can track their own mail ballots. 

  • Many states are part of a consortium to share voter registration data to flag outdated registrations, reducing the chance that a mail ballot is sent to someone who has died or who is no longer eligible to vote at that address.

In 2020 and 2021, Carter defended the use of voting by mail. He said that given advances in the process, he believed it could be conducted "in a manner that ensures election integrity." Carter said he had cast mail ballots for years.

Our ruling

An Instagram post said a Nevada database glitch showing voters cast ballots when they didn’t is evidence that voting by mail is "the largest source of potential voter fraud."

A database coding glitch issue meant that some Nevada voters saw an inaccurate vote history online — showing their mail ballots as counted even if the voters did not vote —   after the Feb. 6 presidential preference primary. The Nevada secretary of state said the glitch was unconnected to vote tabulation and did not affect the election results.  

The post’s quote comes from a report Carter co-wrote in 2005 that highlighted mail voting’s vulnerabilities but did not call for its elimination. Since then, security improvements to voting by mail have been implemented. 

Carter has since said that voting-by-mail safeguards have advanced, that mail-in-voting can be done safely and that he votes by mail himself.

We rate this statement False. 

CORRECTION, Feb. 24: An earlier version of this story said Parrnell did not reply to our request for comment. Parnell did reply via email but in an error on our part, we did not see his response before publication. We updated the fact-check with his comments, and you can read his full response here. We regret the error.

RELATED: Ask PolitiFact: What steps do election officials take to prevent fraud?


Our Sources

Sean Parnell, Instagram post, Feb. 20, 2024

Nevada Secretary of State, Secretary of State’s Office releases statement and report on vote history discrepancies, Feb. 22, 2024

Nevada Independent, SOS: Coding issues to blame for errors in online voter history records, Feb. 19, 2024

Las Vegas Review-Journal, X post, Feb. 19, 2024 

8NewsNow, Glitch causing unmailed Nevada ballots to show up as counted identified, fixes ‘in progress’ Feb. 19, 2024

Elizabeth Helgelein, X post, Feb. 18, 2024

Gov. Joe Lombardo, X post, Feb. 19, 2024

Fox News, PA GOP Senate primary battle: Former Trump-backed candidate Sean Parnell endorses Dave McCormick, Jan. 13, 2022

Heritage Foundation, Election fraud cases in Nevada, Accessed Feb. 22, 2024

PolitiFact, How the GOP spun a 'dead voter' allegation in Nevada, Oct. 26, 2021

PolitiFact, Trump wrongly says Jimmy Carter said ‘don’t ever use’ mail ballots, Nov. 4, 2022

PolitiFact, Pennsylvania voting machine error did not reveal ‘election fraud’ Nov. 11, 2023

PolitiFact, Did a printer error in Nassau County, N.Y., turn every registered voter Democratic? June 19, 2023

PolitiFact, Inaccurate early vote count in one Michigan county was a human error, not a failure of the software, Nov. 18, 2020

Miami Herald, Broward prosecutors reviewing elections office posting results early, Aug. 31, 2016

Email interview, Cecilia Heston, Nevada Secretary of State spokesperson, Feb. 22, 2024

New York Times,  Error and Fraud at Issue as Absentee Voting Rises, 2012

Email interview, Sean Parnell, Feb. 22, 2024

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A Nevada glitch does not equal mail ballot fraud

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