How many votes does Wisconsin have?

US election: DW fact check for vote counting

The votes for the US presidential election have been counted since Tuesday. In some states, candidates are neck and neck and still not all ballot papers have been evaluated. The nervousness increases - and with it the spread of videos, pictures and articles that smell election fraud and forgery. US President Donald Trump and members of his family also share such claims on social media. DW's fact-checking team has scrutinized some of these rumors.

1. A head start from nowhere?


In a viral tweet that was subsequently spread on Facebook, one user claimed:

"Wisconsin was on a [counting] pause and when they got back Biden happened to have 100,000 votes ahead ... that's how it happens, folks."

Fact check:

These and similar claims in other countries relate to the fact that postal votes predominantly go to the democratic candidate. Even before the start of the election, Trump and other Republicans expressed doubts about the postal ballot papers and the need to vote by mail because of the corona pandemic. For corona risk groups and their relatives and friends, however, postal voting documents were the safest way to vote.

Many, including DW, predicted ahead of the election that voting on election day itself would initially give Trump a head start. Later, however, the results would turn out to be in Biden's favor again, namely after the postal votes were counted. Pre-election polls showed that significantly more Democrats than Republicans planned to vote by mail. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, only one in four Trump supporters wanted to use postal voting, compared with one in two Biden supporters.

Elaborate: Counting postal votes in Wisconsin

The counting of these postal votes takes more time than the votes cast by him at the polling station. Some contested states such as Wisconsin, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania only allow postal votes to be counted on election day itself. Due to the corona pandemic, there are also many more postal votes than in previous elections. That is why the counting takes a particularly long time.

This can be seen in Wisconsin, among other places. According to a report in the Green Bay Gazette, Trump had a lead of more than 100,000 votes there until the city of Milwaukee announced the results of the postal vote. After Milwaukee announced these results, Biden topped the country with about 8,000 votes. His lead then increased to 20,000 votes when the cities of Green Bay and Kenosha reported their results.

Some counties in that state count personal and mail votes in one tranche and then publish the result. Others, like Greater Milwaukee, count absentee votes in one central location. The numbers will only be published when the last election papers have been counted. This resulted in a surge in votes for Biden - the results for Milwaukee were published all at once.

As for the first part of the claim, the polling officers and poll workers in Wisconsin did not take a break. The counting of votes went on there all night. Wisconsin chief electoral officer Meagan Wolfe said at a news conference on Nov. 4th, "Our city and county officials worked tirelessly throughout the night to ensure that every valid ballot was counted and accurately reported."

2. Is it all over on November 3rd?


The President and his closest advisors have repeatedly criticized the counting of allegedly illegal votes. Trump also called for the vote count to be stopped. Early Friday morning, the third day after the election, the Trump campaign team emailed its supporters claiming, "No votes can be cast after polling stations are closed!"

Fact check:

Nobody was allowed to vote after the polling stations closed on November 3rd. But many states have a rule that postal ballot papers may arrive later - if they were postmarked by the post office by November 3rd or the day before.

Among the 23 states that will allow it this year are Nevada, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. In these three states, it is still not clear on day three after election day whether Biden or Trump will win the race.

3. Burned ballots?


Donald Trump's son Eric posted a video on Twitter that he describes as showing 80 postal ballot papers burned.

Fact check:

The video was viewed millions of times on social media, distributed, then deleted from some platforms and repeatedly posted by users.

Many people re-uploaded the video to Twitter because it was allegedly evidence of what several Republicans - including the President - had falsely claimed for weeks: that postal voting leads to fraud. However, the video does not show any real ballots from Virginia Beach, as the city announced on its website.

City officials pointed out that the burned sample ballot papers did not have a barcode that was found on the actual ballot papers.

The video, the officials said, could not show how valid Trump votes were destroyed.

4. Ballot in the Detroit black box?


A viral video shows a man rolling a cart into a building in Detroit where votes are being counted. Later, users on social networks claimed that there were 130,000 ballot papers in a black box in the trolley.

Fact check:

Kellye SoRelle, a Texas-based attorney who taped the video, hinted in an interview on Nov. 4 that the box may contain invalid ballots. But she could not say for sure and spoke of a box that was "very similar to the ballot box that we had seen and observed".

"It was just a security issue. We don't really know what was going on, what items she was brought in with, or who came in," SoRelle said.

When asked if it was possible that people could get into the counting room with forged ballots, she replied, "Absolutely. This is a theater of war. We came here to Michigan to help Trump because this is a state who is under attack ".

What looked like election fraud to the lawyer was a local cameraman transporting equipment to document the night of the count, according to broadcaster WXYZ.

5. No access for observers?


President Donald Trump shared an article by the right-wing populist media platform Breitbart on Twitter. This article claims that there is chaos with the postal vote counting in Detroit, Michigan. Observers would be prevented from following the count. The article contained videos showing poll workers covering windows in a multi-purpose hall while people tried to watch the ballot count from outside.

Fact check:

The police pushed back people who had started knocking on doors and windows saying "Stop the count!" to scream.

In the Breitbart article, however, it is not mentioned that, according to statements by election officials, there was no more space for further observers in the hall. Both sides, Democrats and Republicans, were each allowed 134 observers within the room. That number had been exceeded while electoral officials counted votes from Detroit. In addition to Democratic, Republican and independent observers, media representatives and lawyers were also present.

"Election observation is regulated by national law, but some states leave it to the discretion of election officials," said the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) preliminary report on the 2020 US elections, published on November 4th During the COVID-19 pandemic, election officials in several counties restricted the number of observers ".

According to the Detroit Free Press, several lawyers also said the problems began when Republican challengers intimidated election officials. They are said to have taken off their masks, got too close to the counters or addressed them aggressively. Individual observers are said to have asked election officials to stop counting because the Trump campaign team had filed a lawsuit. DW could not determine with absolute certainty whether these lawyers were independent or represented a political party.

The AP press agency announced on Wednesday evening that it sees former Vice President Joe Biden as the winner in Michigan.

6. The mysterious 23,277 Biden votes


There is a number floating around among Donald Trump's supporters: 23,277 - the number of votes in a single batch of ballot papers from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that were said to have gone 100 percent to Joe Biden. Trump's son Donald Jr. made the claim on Twitter.

Fact check:

The votes in Pennsylvania are still being tallied and at the time of this writing there is no clear winner in the presidential election.

Even observers who say they belong to neither the Democratic nor the Republican camp have questioned the plausibility of such a large number of votes for just one candidate.

First, let's consider where the number comes from. It seems to be based on a tweet from FiveThirtyEight, an election data analysis portal owned by ABC News.

At around 10:00 p.m. CET on November 4, FiveThirtyEight wrote on Twitter that two new batches, ie tranches of counted votes, had been reported from Pennsylvania: from Lucerne County and Philadelphia. The votes from Philadelphia, 23,277 in number, "all went to Biden".

DW looked at the results of all electoral districts that had completed the counting of the ballot papers by November 5 at 11 a.m. CET. This corresponds to 98 percent of the districts.

In eight of the 1665 districts, Biden received all votes, a total of 1286. If one also considers the four districts in which other candidates besides Biden received votes, but Trump did not, then this would add 426 votes to this total. That would be a maximum of 1712 votes. Far less than the 23,277 in question.

FiveThirtyEight posted a statement on Twitter on November 6th at around 2:30 a.m.CET. It refers to information from Edison Research, the polling company that aggregates voting data for media like FiveThirtyEight.

"Sometimes election officials and data analysts inadvertently enter vote updates from one candidate at a time instead of entering all candidates together. The votes of the other candidates are then taken into account in a further input step," said FiveThirtyEight. In the next vote update from Philadelphia, Trump received twice as many votes as before.

DW was unable to ascertain beyond doubt whether the batch of 23,277 ballot papers that Biden received was due to election officials inadvertently considering one candidate at a time when updating the results.

7. "Sharpiegate"


Trump's son Eric spread the claim on Twitter that voters in Republican-dominated districts had been given special felt-tip pens to invalidate their votes.

Fact check:

One conspiracy theory has it that ballot papers marked with "Sharpie" felt-tip pens are invalid because they cannot be read by voting machines. That is the reason why election workers have given these pens to Trump voters.

Government officials in Arizona say this claim is untrue and that votes cast with such pens will be counted. Arizona State Secretary Katie Hobbs stressed, according to the New York Times, that election officials have taken steps to ensure that bleeding ink or stains do not invalidate votes.

In addition, there was a reason for using fine felt-tip pens. Election officials said they had the fastest drying ink, so it will avoid spilling the ballot papers.

8. Voices from Mars?


Donald Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani said the following in Philadelphia on November 4th:

"Not a single Republican was able to see any of those postal ballot papers. They could have been sent from Mars. Or they could have been from the Democratic Party. Joe Biden could have voted 50 times or 5000 times! The ballots might come out Come Camden. Unfortunately Philadelphia - and I say that about my own city - has a reputation for electoral fraud ".

Fact check:

Giuliani also claimed that election observers were kept 6 to 9 meters away from the ballot papers. The Pennsylvania state government says election observers must stay 1.8 meters away from other people due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Giuliani has provided no evidence to support his claim.

In addition, voters who send their ballot in the mail cannot vote 50 or 5,000 times. In order to be able to vote - once - by post, you have to be entered in the electoral roll. According to various studies, fraud is rare in US elections. Data collected by Professor Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School revealed only 31 incidents in elections from 2000 to 2014, which resulted in a total of one billion ballots.

"From 2000 to 2014, I found 31 credible incidents," Levitt told DW about his research in the run-up to the elections. "I've kept searching and now I've found about 45 credible incidents on over a billion and a half ballot papers, so the rate is about the same. This is really, really, really rare. Americans are more likely to be fatally struck by lightning."

Rudy Giuliani has provided no evidence to back up his claim that Pennsylvania postal ballot papers could come from anywhere and from anyone. Independent election observers have not been able to find any such cases either.

Adaptation: Peter Hille

Collaboration: Susanne Baldsiefen

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