As rumors circulate of stolen ballots and suspicious holes in ballot envelopes, state and local authorities say they have put measures in place to ensure election security.
You’ve seen the posts on Twitter and Facebook, or maybe someone has forwarded a WhatsApp message regarding suspicious activity with the California Recall Bulletins.
Unfounded rumors about election security have always existed, but they have been rife since the 2020 election and former President Trump’s “Stop the Steal” movement. Despite these allegations, the 2020 elections proved to be “the safest in American history,” according to a statement from a coalition of government and electoral sector officials.
Allegations of fraud in the California recall election have been amplified on social networks by some recall supporters, as well as some of the candidates themselves, including Larry Elder, the Republican talk show host who tops most polls.
Thus, before the September 14 elections, state and county election officials are emphasizing transparency – including allowing observers to monitor the vote count – and multiplying messages to fight disinformation. On television and on social media, the Secretary of State’s office is spots on how votes are protected, including independent testing, written records and audits.
Here’s a look at some of the most common conspiracy theories and allegations:
Stolen and additional ballots
There may be fraud, or at least potential fraud. But it’s just not common.
Last week in Torrance, police investigating reports of a man sleeping in his car found stolen driver’s licenses, credit cards and mail, including 300 unmarked and unopened reminder bulletins. The man was arrested and voters whose ballots were found will receive new ones.
Torrance Police Sgt. Ron Salary said the ballots were only a small fraction of the stolen mail and that while the investigation was ongoing, it did not appear to be part of a larger electoral plot.
“When someone is caught committing a crime, it means the system is working,” said Jenna Dresner, spokesperson for the state’s Election Cyber Security Office. “In this case, it was a theft of general mail and was referred to the appropriate federal and local law enforcement authorities to investigate and prosecute if necessary.”
Some Californians have said they received ballots that were not intended for them – either with names of people not in their household or with additional ballots.
Counties send out ballots based on the voters lists – a register that can sometimes become outdated due to unreported deaths or changes of address, for example. The accelerated timeline of the recall election could lead to some ballots landing in the wrong places, experts say. But as with the stolen ballots in Torrance, there are safeguards to ensure that no one can vote more than once.
Los Angeles County officials have pointed out that the signature verification process prevents one person’s ballot from being used by someone else.
“Each returned mail-in ballot is verified by matching the signature on the return envelope with the signature on the voter registration record,” said Mike Sanchez, communications manager for the Los Angeles County Clerk-Recorder / County Clerk. “Once verified, the ballot is recorded as received in our database and the ballot is processed for counting on election night. “
In 2020, a study published by the non-partisan California Voter Foundation found that 1.4% of all postal ballots in the March primary were rejected. A closer look at San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sacramento counties in 2018 found that signature mismatches accounted for 4%, 10%, and 40% of all releases, respectively. Voters are warned so they can try to correct their ballot and make it count.
Design of ballot papers: holes and folds
Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, says disinformation isn’t always spread by conspiracy theorists: Sometimes it’s just worried or confused voters.
“The California election has never been straightforward,” she said, noting that some voting details vary from county to county. “It creates confusion and unfortunately some people, when they don’t understand something, go for the worst case scenario. “
Take, for example, the messages circulating on holes in the return envelopes of postal ballots. Some fear that the way they voted could be seen through these holes.
In response to a tweet from a Los Angeles voter, the county County Registrar-Recorder / Clerk noted that the holes have been a part of the casing design for years. They allow voters with visual impairments to find where they need to sign, and they also make sure no ballots are left in their envelope and not counted.
“This raises a concern that we need to resolve, but it doesn’t mean it’s a sign that someone is trying to steal your vote,” Alexander said.
The envelope holes are one of many measures to help people with disabilities, including the remote accessible mail voting system, which allows people with disabilities to vote privately on their computers using audio, visual or other that they might need.
The process was temporarily open to everyone due to COVID-19, leading some conservative websites to claim it was a means of electoral theft. In 2020, 37,178 voters registered to receive remotely accessible ballots, according to the secretary of state’s office.
But the state says it has measures in place to prevent fraud: each registered voter is associated with a single address and a single signature, so no one can print more than one ballot. The voter’s choices are also transferred to a ballot and the two documents are stored together for a post-election audit.
Janna Haynes, public information manager for the Sacramento County Registrar’s Office, noted that there is sometimes misinformation that includes elements of the truth, but lacks context for people to understand.
Sacramento County issued a notice regarding the ballot envelope holes, although it was designed differently than Los Angeles: are holes in the envelope to help guide blind voters to the ballot line. signature, they do not reveal any of the contests, regardless of how the ballot is folded and placed in the envelope.
Because the order in which the 46 replacement candidates are listed on the ballot is different in each state assembly district, it also means that the fold of the ballot paper scanning the name of a candidate is not a way of “rigging” the election.
“We’ve now taken the position that we just want to address the things that we see, before we even have any questions about it,” said Janna Haynes, public information officer for the Sacramento County Registrar’s office. .
Return the ballots early
The COVID-19 pandemic added complexity to the election; a sin 2020, people have the option to vote in person, return the ballots or return them to drop boxes.
The decision to allow universal postal voting was taken before the delta variant of the coronavirus became a major concern in California, despite claims the state was using it as an excuse to send a ballot to everyone. registered voters.
In Lassen County, the Election Office sent a social media message warning anyone hoping to remind Newsom that voting early would allow someone – presumably the Governor and Democrats – to know how many votes had been cast in favor of the recall, and therefore be able to “estimate the number of” votes “they will need for their side to be victorious. ”
The Lassen County Election Office refuted this claim. The Secretary of State says that although the ballots can be processed and counted up to 29 days before polling day, no result on the winning side is announced before the close of polling stations.
Concerns about the Dominion
In the 2020 presidential election, Trump cited a One America News Network report that falsely claimed that voting machines removed “millions of votes” cast for him. These machines were manufactured by Dominion Vote, who sued OAN and Fox News, among others who started the rumor.
Sacramento County released a statement Aug. 13 regarding a rumor that officials were circulating nationally and internationally that two Dominion employees were employed at the registrar’s office.
“These rumors are false. The genesis of these rumors is still not clear, but due to the prevalence of this rumor, our office is tackling this lie head-on, ”indicates the county opinion.
While the county is one of many that uses Domination machines, the county said no Dominion employee has been or will ever be employed by the Sacramento County Elections Office. He clarified that a Dominion technician was on hand to help with an accuracy test of the voting machine, but that maintenance and repairs are done by county employees and outside suppliers are not. authorized to touch voting materials, election records or ballots.
So how do you determine what is fact and fiction regarding the Newsom recall? A little research helps; CalMatters has an FAQ.
The state worked with county officials on the #VoteSafeCA campaign to educate voters and provide guidance to ensure their own electoral security, such as track their ballots.
County election officials encourage voters to call or email their offices with questions or concerns. Sacramento County is hold a public question-and-answer session this evening.
“If people are feeling uncomfortable about something,” said Haynes, “we have to do whatever we can and define ourselves as the source of the correct information.”