Sinclair Broadcast Group is spreading misinformation from the far-right group Project Veritas about Michigan ballots -- even though the premise behind the claim was debunked the same day as Sinclair began spreading it.
On November 4, Project Veritas published a video which included a conversation between the discredited organization’s founder, James O’Keefe, and an anonymous “whistleblower” whose voice is altered. The anonymous person alleges, without evidence, that the post office they supposedly work for in Traverse City, Michigan, was backdating mail-in ballots to make it look like they were received by Election Day on November 3 when they were actually collected November 4. The video attempts to make this person look more legitimate by showing blurred photos of what appears to be a U.S. Postal Service ID card.
Both PolitiFact and the Record-Eagle, a local newspaper based in Traverse City, debunked the premise central to these allegations the day after Project Veritas released its video. PolitiFact, citing city and county elections officials, explained that “the postmark on a ballot in Michigan isn’t relevant to whether or not the ballot gets counted. That’s because ballots in Michigan must have been received on Election Day in order to have been counted. ... The postmark date is not a factor.” The Record-Eagle also explicitly stated that “this backdating narrative could not have impacted the local election”:
“We already counted all the ballots received by 8 p.m. and they’re all secured, so we’re not counting any late ballots. So it doesn’t even matter if they did that, because it’s not going to affect anything,” said Bonnie Scheele, Grand Grand Traverse County Clerk.
Ron Krumrie, union vice-president, confirmed the video does use the name of a current Barlow Branch supervisor and does depict a postal worker badge.
Krumrie echoed Sheele’s assessment, saying no such scheme, if attempted, could not have succeeded in getting late ballots counted.
In Michigan, it is arrival time, not postmark date, that determines the cut-off.
“Absentee ballots had to be addressed to whatever town office the voter is registered in, and they had to be in the hands of the precinct by 8 p.m. Tuesday night,” Krumrie said.
Tracy Wimmer, the secretary of state’s director of media relations, dismissed the video’s claims.
“Postmarks on ballots don’t matter in Michigan because they have to be physically received by 8 p.m. on Election Day,” she said in an email. “Any ballot that someone attempted to turn in yesterday, regardless of the postmark, would be rejected.”
Despite multiple postal and election officials debunking Project Veritas’ claims, Sinclair still published and spread an article by conservative political writer Ellie Bufkin uncritically repeating the far-right group’s unfounded fraud allegations:
The nation is now in the third day of waiting for a result on the highly contentious presidential election, reports of irregularities among ballots and concerns over fraud have been shared in multiple states.
Project Veritas, a conservative news outlet, published a video late Wednesday in which an unidentified person claiming to be a Michigan postal worker alleged that postal marks were being altered to show that ballots arrived before the Nov. 3 deadline.
Veritas’s report was similar to several other accusations across the country that alleged ballot irregularities, most of which would swing in favor of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Key battleground states were called for Biden Wednesday, including Michigan and Wisconsin, but as of Thursday, President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign has requested a recount in Wisconsin and filed a suit over reports of fraudulent vote counts in Michigan.
This right-wing election disinformation was shared on dozens of local Sinclair TV station websites across the country.
The article was also shared on at least 20 Facebook pages belonging to Sinclair-owned or -operated stations.
Additionally, at least two Sinclair stations broadcast the Project Veritas allegations on their local news programs. WPBN in Traverse City covered the allegations at least five times -- though unlike the Sinclair article, it mentioned both that the claims were unverified and that according to Michigan law, this alleged scheme wouldn’t work.
WSBT in South Bend, Indiana, likewise mentioned that the Project Veritas allegations were unverified, but it failed to include an explanation that these claims would have no effect on the election even if they were true.
Project Veritas has released multiple videos after Election Day that attempt to discredit how the Postal Service is handling mail-in ballots, usually by claiming that postal workers are backdating ballots received after November 3. So far, the group has targeted Michigan and Pennsylvania with this narrative and also released a secretly recorded video that purports to show a postal worker in Nevada offering ballots to a Project Veritas operative. These post-Election Day videos are heavily edited, short, and offer no corroboration, but they have already received widespread attention from right-wing figures -- including Rush Limbaugh, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and Donald Trump Jr. -- who are citing them as evidence to falsely suggest significant voter fraud is happening in swing states. Project Veritas, in the meantime, continues to beg for tips from supporters about alleged voter fraud.