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Molly Butler / Media Matters

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Right-wing figures and social media users use a clerical error in Pennsylvania to push election fraud claims

In a Facebook group with over 193,000 members, one exasperated user wrote: “Voting machines will have to be outlawed” before the 2024 presidential election

After Northampton County, Pennsylvania, officials released a statement on November 7 saying that a voting machine company's clerical error caused votes on a ballot question to appear to be changed, right-wing figures and social media users immediately cited the error as evidence that Democrats were using voting machines to rig elections and claimed that paper ballots were the only way to ensure a secure election. In reality, though the votes appeared to be flipped due to a glitch, officials confirmed that they were tabulated correctly.

  • Votes in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, were tallied accurately — despite claims from right-wing outlets

    • Although votes appeared to be flipped due to a glitch on printed ballot summaries for one county in a state-wide ballot question, officials confirmed that votes were tabulated correctly. The AP reported that a voting machine company’s “clerical error” caused votes in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, to “appear to be flipped on a ballot question that asked whether a pair of incumbent state appeals judges should be retained.” The story added, “Despite the glitch on the printed summary, voters’ actual choices were properly recorded by the machines’ backend system, and their votes will be tabulated accurately.” [The Associated Press, 11/7/23]
    • Nevertheless, a number of right-wing outlets amplified claims that votes had been “flipped” in articles that spread widely on social media. The Gateway Pundit, an outlet known for using Facebook to spread and profit from election misinformation, published several articles that users shared in private right-wing Facebook groups. Another article about the error from American Military News, which claimed that “machines experienced programming errors that caused votes to flip,” also made its way around Facebook. Right-wing site The Western Journal shared an article about the “glitch” across its network of Facebook pages. [Forbes, 7/29/21; The Gateway Pundit, accessed 11/9/23; Media Matters, 3/25/20; Facebook, accessed 11/9/23, 11/9/23]
    • On November 8, Fox host Jesse Watters called this year’s election a “test run for election security” and suggested that voter fraud occurred, listing Pennsylvania as an example. Watters also claimed, “A little fraud goes a long way.” [Fox News, 11/8/23]
  • Right-wing figures claimed that the election was rigged, suggesting the clerical error was intentional and politically motivated

    • Conservative commentator Rogan O'Handley, also known as DC Draino, posted on X (formerly Twitter) that “Democrats run [Pennsylvania] and will cheat in *any* way possible.” Linking to a Gateway Pundit story about the glitch, O’Handley wrote: “BREAKING: Voting machines in Pennsylvania shut down after getting caught flipping votes. Democrats run that state and will cheat in *any* way possible. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH - Get rid of these damn rigged machines!” [Twitter/X, 11/7/23]
    • Far-right personality and self-described “proud Islamophobe” Laura Loomer claimed that the error was “proof” that voting machines “flip votes.” She posted, “BREAKING: Voting machines in Pennsylvania flipped votes for judges in a tabulation error! Proof the machines flip votes. Election machines cannot be trusted!” [Twitter/X, 11/7/23]
    • ”Pizzagate” conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec cited the glitch as evidence that election denialist and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell had been “proven right” about voting machines. Lindell reportedly spent tens of millions of dollars of his own money to spread false election claims in his quest to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. [Twitter/X, 11/8/23; CNBC, 12/16/21]
    • Conservative commentator Benny Johnson cited the voting machine error as an example in his “list” of supposed “election fraud cases we’ve recently learned about.” He posted, “Voting machines in Pennsylvania are now being shut down after reports of machines ‘flipping votes’. And this is why Americans have lost all faith in our electoral process. … When will America acknowledge that our election system has been compromised?” [Twitter/X, 11/7/23]
    • Right-wing internet personality Wall Street Apes claimed that “voting machines” had been “caught switching votes.” “America will NEVER have another fair election,” the post claimed. [Truth Social, 11/7/23]
  • Users in right-wing Facebook groups also amplified false claims of voter fraud

    • Users in private right-wing Facebook groups amplified articles about the error and claimed that it was indicative of fraud. For instance, one user in a private pro-Trump group with nearly 7,000 members shared a Newsweek article headlined “Pennsylvania Voting Machines Changing Votes Sparks Outrage,” and said that they’d “be willing to bet that this is what happened in the 2020 election in many Democratic ran cities and states.” Another user in a private group amplified an ABC News article about the error, asking, “Remember when all the kooks said voter fraud was improbable and very rare?!” The user added, “Just wait til next year - you ain’t seen nothing yet … Disgusting that we keep allowing this shit to continue.” [Facebook, 11/7/2311/8/23; Newsweek, 11/7/23; ABC News, 11/7/23]
    • A user in a private pro-Trump Facebook group told nearly 9,000 members: “They want voters to trust the machines that are publishing the opposite results of the voters! There is no way of knowing which is actually accurate.” The user also falsely claimed, “The voting machines ONLY flipped votes in the race between Judge Jack Panella (Democrat) and Judge Victor Stabile (Republican) for the Pennsylvania Superior Court. The concerned voters said the machines were flipping votes FROM THE REPUBLICAN TO THE DEMOCRAT.” Election officials said the error showed voters the opposite of what they entered into the voting machine in a visual display. [Facebook, 11/7/23; The Associated Press, 11/7/23]
  • Far-right figures and users in right-wing Facebook groups falsely claimed that the only way for elections to be secure is through the use of paper ballots

    • QAnon-connected election denial activist Seth Keshel wrote on Telegram, “Programming errors don’t happen on paper ballots.” Keshel shared an article from The Gateway Pundit claiming that the “VP of Customer Operations” of the voting machine company used in Pennsylvania said, “It was a human error, based on someone from our team that programmed the election.” [Telegram, 11/8/23; The Gateway Pundit, 11/8/23]
    • QAnon influencer ULTRA Pepe Lives Matter wrote, “Imagine if we just went to paper ballots and voter ID but apparently it's a conspiracy theory to think our elections are not riddled with fraud.” [Telegram, 11/7/23]
    • Users in private right-wing and pro-Trump Facebook groups expressed distrust in voting machines, falsely accused Democrats of cheating, claimed that “massive errors” didn’t happen before 2020, and called for the use of paper ballots. One user wrote, “Human error … You mean trying to cheat again! Until 2020 we didn't have all these massive errors and jaming up!” They added, “Go back to paper ballots and fair elections! Elections now days are compromised.” Another user shared an article from The Gateway Pundit and wrote that there is “no proof that touchscreen voting can be verified,” claiming that the votes “can still be flipped internally, by design.” They added, “WE MUST DEMAND HAND MARKED HAND COUNTED PAPER BALLOTS AT THE PRECINCTS!” [Facebook, 11/8/23, 11/7/23, 11/7/23
    • One user in a private right-wing Facebook group with over 193,000 members wrote, “Voting machines will have to be outlawed before the Presidential Election.” They added, “Corruption is massive,” and shared a link to an article from The Gateway Pundit claiming that votes were “getting flipped” in Pennsylvania. [Facebook, 11/9/23; The Gateway Pundit, 11/7/23]