As the September 14 elections in California on whether to remove Governor Gavin Newsom draws nearer, unsubstantiated rumors about the event mount.
Here are two that are rife on the internet, how they spread, and why they are wrong, according to state and local officials.
Rumor # 1: Holes in the ballot envelopes were used to weed out votes who said “yes” to a dismissal.
On August 19, a woman posted a video on Instagram putting her ballot for special elections in California in an envelope.
“You have to watch out for those two holes before the envelope,” she said, bringing the holes close to the camera for viewers to see. “You can see if someone voted ‘yes’ to call Newsom back. In my opinion this is very sketchy and irresponsible, but it calls for fraud. “
The idea that the holes in the ballot envelope were used to weed out the votes of those who wanted the removal of Governor Newsom, a Democrat, quickly spread across the Internet, according to a New York Times review.
The California recall election
The Instagram video garnered nearly half a million views. Posts claiming California was manipulating the special elections garnered nearly 200,000 views on the Telegram messaging app. And an article about the polling holes on the far-right site The Gateway Pundit reached up to 626,000 people on Facebook, according to data from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned social media analysis tool.
State and local officials said the polling stations are not new and are not being used shamefully. The holes were placed in the envelope at either end of a signature line so that visually impaired voters know where to sign, said Jenna Dresner, a spokeswoman for the California Department of State for cybersecurity.
The ballot envelope design was used for multiple election cycles and civic design consultants recommended the holes for accessibility, added Mike Sanchez, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Registrar. He said voters could choose to put the ballot in the envelope in such a way that no ballot mark could be seen through a hole.
Since then, Instagram has added a fact-check label to the original video to indicate that it could mislead people. According to CrowdTangle data, the fact check reached up to 20,700 people.
Rumor # 2: A felon stole ballot papers to help Governor Newsom win the recall election.
On August 17, police in Torrance, Calif., Posted a post on Facebook saying officers responded to a call about a man who passed out in his car in a 7-eleven parking lot. The man had items such as a loaded gun, drugs and thousands of mail items with him, including more than 300 unopened ballot papers for the special elections, police said.
Far-right sites like Red Voice Media and Conservative Firing Line claimed the incident was an example of the Democrats’ attempt to steal an election by postal vote. Their articles were then shared on Facebook, where together they reached up to 1.57 million people, according to CrowdTangle data.
Mark Ponegalek, a public information officer for the Torrance Police Department, said the investigation into the incident was ongoing. The U.S. Postal Inspector was also involved, he said, and no conclusions had been drawn.
As a result, he said, online articles and posts that concluded that the man attempted election fraud were “baseless”.
“I have no clues to tell you either way at the moment,” said Ponegalek, “whether the man with the ballot papers collected wanted to commit election fraud. He added that the man may have wanted to commit identity fraud.