As California’s September 14 election on whether or not to recall Governor Gavin Newsom draws near, baseless rumors about the event are growing.
Here are two widely circulating online, how they spread and why, according to state and local officials, they’re wrong.
Rumor #1: Holes in the ballot envelopes were used to screen votes that say “yes” to a recall.
On August 19, a woman posted a video to Instagram of her putting her special California ballot paper in an envelope.
“You have to pay attention to these two holes that are in front of the envelope,” she said, bringing the holes close to the camera for viewers to see. “You can tell if someone voted ‘yes’ to recall Newsom. In my opinion, this is very brief and irresponsible, but this is asking for fraud.”
According to a NewsMadura review, the idea spread that the ballot box holes were being used to remove the votes of those who wanted Governor Newsom, a Democrat, to be recalled.
California’s Recall Elections
The Instagram video garnered nearly half a million views. On the messaging app Telegram, posts saying California was rigging the special elections were viewed nearly 200,000 times. And an article about the ballot boxes on far-right site The Gateway Pundit reached up to 626,000 people on Facebook, according to data from CrowdTangle, a social media analytics tool owned by Facebook.
State and local officials said the voting holes were not new and had not been used needlessly. The holes were placed in the envelope, either side of a signature line, to help low-vision voters know where to sign it, said Jenna Dresner, a spokeswoman for California’s Secretary of State for Election Cybersecurity.
The ballot envelope design has been used for several election cycles, and civil design consultants recommended the gaps for accessibility, added Mike Sanchez, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Registrar. He said voters could choose to put the ballot in the envelope in such a way that no ballot could be seen through a hole at all.
Instagram has since added a fact-checking label to the original video to note that it could mislead people. The fact check has reached up to 20,700 people, according to CrowdTangle data.
Rumor No. 2: A thug has stolen ballots to help Governor Newsom win the recall election.
On August 17, police in Torrance, California, posted a message on Facebook stating that officers responded to a call about a man who had passed out in his car in a 7-Eleven parking lot. The man’s possessions included a loaded firearm, drugs and thousands of mail items, including more than 300 unopened ballots for the special election, police said.
Far-right sites such as Red Voice Media and Conservative Firing Line claimed the incident was an example of Democrats trying to steal an election through ballot papers. Their articles were then shared on Facebook, where they collectively reached 1.57 million people, according to CrowdTangle data.
Mark Ponegalek, a public information officer for the Torrance Police Department, said the investigation into the incident is continuing. The US Postal Inspector was also involved, he said, and no conclusions had been drawn.
As a result, he said, online articles and posts concluding that the man was attempting voter fraud were “unfounded.”
“I have no indication at this point to somehow tell you whether the man intended to commit electoral fraud with the ballots he collected,” Ponegalek said. He added that the man may have been planning to commit identity theft.