Debunking Election Claims: How Misinformation Is Slowing Wisconsin's Recount

Nov 24, 2020

The Wisconsin election recount is continuing in Milwaukee and Dane counties, but officials say uninformed observers are obstructing the process. It’s also slow moving because President Donald Trump’s attorneys have been making unsubstantiated claims of fraud. In part, these issues may stem from a bigger issue facing the recount process — rampant misinformation.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Eric Litke keeps track of these claims for PolitiFact Wisconsin and he says many of the claims being made about ballots go back to election night and how ballots were reported.

“The biggest stuff all really ties down to how votes were reported, we have this tendency to see the vote returns on election night as this kind of a horse race or something but in reality, those votes all exist, it’s just a matter of which pile we get to first,” says Litke.

With large cities like Milwaukee, it was known before the election that a record number of people would vote absentee and those ballots would skew towards Democrats. When those votes were announced, many then tried to paint it as something nefarious or wrong.

Amongst a few of the specific claims Litke has been following, one honed in on the Milwaukee Election Commission and a flash drive.

Because the city of Milwaukee’s voting machines are not connected to the internet, the central count of absentee ballots had to be placed on flash drives. The total count took twelve flash drives but when the head of the Milwaukee Election Commission arrived at the reporting facility, she only had eleven flash drives.

A police officer was then sent to the central count location and picked up the last flash drive. The information on the drive was then checked to make sure nothing had been tampered with and the timestamp on the data proved nothing had been changed.

"The biggest stuff all really ties down to how votes were reported, we have this tendency to see the vote returns on election night as this kind of a horse race or something but in reality, those votes all exist, it's just a matter of which pile we get to first."

That information has not stopped false claims that this drive was tampered with and somehow was used to change votes for President Trump to votes for President-elect Joe Biden.

“So there was this brief delay in getting this where it was supposed to be but we can confirm nothing was changed, the votes were recorded and reported properly, but that’s of course not how it is presented,” he says.

Among the other claims were some that Milwaukee and Dane county clerks colluded to add 250,000 people onto the indefinitely confined voter list. That couldn’t happen because clerks aren’t the ones who put people on the list, voters put themselves on that list by applying for a ballot as indefinitely confined.

Others claimed that a glitch in a voting system called Dominion, used throughout the nation, switched votes from Trump to Biden. Despite neither Milwaukee or Dane county using this system, the original claim was found to be due to a mistake in an Associated Press report of the vote and not because of any actual votes being miscounted.

Overall, Litke says people need to do real research into claims of voter fraud before claiming that something intentionally wrong happened.

“People just aren’t even making far enough to review that evidence. It’s simply this is my candidate, this is my view of the world, this claim fits my view of the world, therefore I will believe it, I will share it, I will defend it no matter what evidence is presented to me,” he says.