6 False Claims About Wisconsin's Election, Explained
As election night stretched into the early morning of Nov. 4, the election results in Wisconsin began to shift. It was something that many election observers expected: in-person voting, generally counted first, would favor President Donald Trump. Mail-in voting, counted later, would favor former Vice President Joe Biden.
But as the tide began to turn in favor of Biden, prominent Republicans, including Trump, began making claims of fraud. These claims run the gamut from basic misunderstandings of how elections are conducted in Wisconsin to outright conspiracy theories.
Reporter Eric Litke has been keeping track of these claims for PolitiFact Wisconsin and explains each one of them:
1. Vote irregularities
In a statement by Trump’s campaign manager Bill Stepien, he claimed that “there had been reports of irregularities in several Wisconsin counties which raise serious doubts about the validity of the results.”
Stepien provided no evidence for these claims. Litke says it goes against all the reports from Wisconsin election officials.
“We’ve seen some of the standard slowdowns and temporary mistakes that happen in any election but certainly no evidence of any kind of widespread fraud or errors that would in any way cast doubt on the final margin,” says Litke.
2. 100,000 found votes at 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday
This theory was tweeted by Trump at 9 a.m on Wednesday following Biden taking the lead in Wisconsin.
While there were large numbers of ballots reported in the early hours of Nov. 4, this was expected. Cities like Milwaukee and Green Bay use central count and report total votes at the end of the count. Because of state law, the counting of these ballots could not begin until 7 a.m. on Election Day and took until early the next day to complete.
“People without any context claiming that this shows fraud, what it is, is something that is 100% expected and typical for an election,” says Litke.
These ballots were also expected to heavily support Biden. That's because the areas historically have high support for Democrats and polls had shown that absentee voters were more likely to support Biden, while Election Day voters were more likely to support Trump.
3. Wisconsin election officials took a break from counting votes
This claim was made about several states. But Wisconsin officials made it very clear that just because there was a pause in reporting, did not mean that workers had stopped counting votes.
In Milwaukee, the city even livestreamed the absentee ballot counting process so that anyone could watch.
“The only possible break here would be in the reports of election results. We saw reports, kinda, throughout the day of the people voting in person but then the long delay while, Milwaukee for example, tabulated all of the absentee ballots. So there was no break, there was just a lot of work being done,” says Litke.
4. Milwaukee's heavy Biden support is 'sketchy'
In a circulated tweet, a comparison was made between the margin of support Biden received in Milwaukee County as a whole and the city of Milwaukee differing by over 20 percentage points as "sketchy as hell."
This claim fails to understand that this falls very close to the same percentage points separating Trump and Hillary Clinton in 2016. The suburbs of Milwaukee do not have a history of the overwhelming Democratic support that the city of Milwaukee does.
5. Wisconsin has more votes than registered voters
"The first mistake is that we see people comparing the preelection voter registration numbers to the number of votes on Election Day,” he says.
In Wisconsin, voters are legally allowed to register on the day of the election, which means newly registered voters need to be added to those totals.
Despite this election setting many records, it did not set the record for the highest percent of the voting-age population who cast ballots. In 2004, 72.9% cast ballots, which is higher than 72.3% in 2020.
6. Democratic governors stopped vote counting while the media called states for Biden
This conspiracy theory is spreading the idea that governors like Tony Evers successfully halted vote counting, giving media outlets time to claim Biden had won in Wisconsin.
“We’re talking, just in Wisconsin, tens of thousands — if not more — [of] people that would have to be involved on a conspiracy of this scale,” he says.
This would also require every journalist involved not to leak any information or attempt to break the story, which Litke says seems impossible.
“That would be a heck of a scoop, right? If there was this grand conspiracy to steal the election, like, you could build a career off of that. I don’t know why we would all be quiet if something was actually happening,” says Litke.
Almost every one of these claims comes from social media posts and gets circulated because they confirm people’s previously held beliefs and therefore people do not feel the need to fact-check them. Litke’s advice is that a simple Google search and double checking your facts can be all it takes to understand when you are reading misinformation.