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Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman November 10, 2020

Election workers didn’t ‘find’ Biden votes overnight. They counted and reported mail in ballots

If Your Time is short

  • This is a misinterpretation of how counting mail in ballots works.

  • Some of the numbers are simply wrong, while others represent exaggerated versions of  misinformation that PolitiFact has debunked.

The internet is flooded with baseless claims of surprise ballots being "found" for President-elect Joe Biden in certain swing states.

One posted on Facebook Nov. 8 takes the form of a screenshot of a tweet posted Nov. 5 by  Nick Adams, who calls himself "Trump’s favorite author": 

"Between 3:00-4:30 A.M., they ‘found’ 140,000 mail in ballots for Biden in Wisconsin. Between 3:30-5:00 A.M., they ‘found’ 200,000 mail in ballots for Biden in Michigan. Between 2:00-4:00 A.M., they ‘found’ 1,000,000 mail in ballots in Pennsylvania. All for Biden. None for Trump."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

It seems to be based on a misunderstanding of how counting mail in ballots works.

Some of the numbers are simply wrong, while others represent exaggerated versions of  misinformation we have already debunked.

Let’s take it state by state.

Wisconsin

We previously debunked a Nov. 4 claim that said 112,000 ballots, all for Joe Biden, mysteriously surfaced in the middle of the night after Election Day in Wisconsin. Officials there said they didn’t know what the number could have been referencing; at the time they were still counting  absentee ballots overnight.

This new post changes it up a bit, claiming instead that "140,000" ballots were found for Biden between 3 and 4:30 a.m. in the state, presumably the night after Election Day polls closed Nov. 3 and into the morning of Nov. 4.

The figure is close to the number of mail in votes that were cast for Biden in Milwaukee County overall.

There was a jump in votes for Biden on the night of Nov. 3 because a large batch of absentee ballots from the City of Milwaukee finished processing around 3:30 a.m., election officials told us.

Election officials worked through the night in Wisconsin to tally the unprecedented numbers of mail in ballots, which under state law they were not allowed to start counting until Election Day.

"A batch of about 170,000 absentee ballots is what came in from the City of Milwaukee. That’s just the final tally, and when it arrived," said Brian Rothgery, public information manager at the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, referencing the time cited in the post. 

Biden has won 69% of the vote in the county. For comparison, Hillary Clinton won about 65% of the vote in the county in 2016.

Featured Fact-check

RELATED: Fact-checking the avalanche of Wisconsin election misinformation 

Michigan 

We couldn’t find evidence that 200,000 mail in ballots for Biden were found overnight, any night, in Michigan. 

The claim appears to be an exaggerated iteration of posts that falsely said Biden received a suspicious influx of 138,339 votes in Michigan overnight following Election Day, while other candidates received none. 

That claim relied on a data error that appeared on the elections map powered by Decision Desk HQ, an election data and analysis service. 

The error came from the central Michigan county of Shiawassee. Caroline Wilson, the county’s clerk, told fact-checking organization AFP that she added an extra zero accidentally, reporting 153,710 votes for Biden instead of 15,371.

The difference, 138,339, was removed from Biden’s total within about 20 minutes, election officials said.

Pennsylvania 

We have seen no credible reports that Pennsylvania election workers discovered 1 million mail in ballots for Biden "between 2 and 4 a.m.," or at any other time.

The claim may have originated from this Gateway Pundit story, which says that, "Democrats, in the privacy of the Philly Convention Center, without ANY GOP inspectors, added OVER ONE MILLION VOTES to Joe Biden’s totals in 2 days!"

That’s not the case. A judge ruled to let election observers watch the count in Philadelphia from closer up, but representatives from both parties have been allowed to observe the process all along. The counting is also being streamed live online.

Election officials in the state told PolitiFact there is "no truth to the claim" that any votes were mysteriously "found" for Biden there.

In Pennsylvania, both Trump and Biden gained around 1 million votes on the night of Nov. 3 and into the morning of Nov. 4, according to the FiveThirtyEight election graph, which showed that the biggest increase happened between midnight and 3 a.m.

Our ruling

Facebook posts are spreading a tweet that claims election workers, overnight, "found" 140,000 mail in ballots in Wisconsin, 200,000 in Michigan and 1 million in Pennsylvania, and all were for Biden.

This is inaccurate. The numbers are either wrong or exaggerated, and the post misinterprets the counting and reporting of legal mail in ballots as "found" votes.

We rate this False.

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here, for more.

Our Sources

Facebook post, Nov. 8, 2020

USA Today, Biden declared winner in Wisconsin with 20,000 vote margin; Trump campaign vows request for recount, Nov. 4, 20202

PolitiFact, Social media post falsely claims Wisconsin 'found' 112,000 votes at 3 a.m., Nov. 4, 2020 

Wisconsin Elections Commission, Absentee Voting Statistics, Accessed Nov. 9, 2020 

PolitiFact, No, Biden did not receive thousands of mysteriously surfaced votes in Michigan, Nov. 4, 2020 

AFP Fact Check, Human error in Michigan county vote tally sparks claims of election fraud, Nov. 4, 2020 

PolitiFact, Ted Cruz falsely claims Philadelphia is counting votes in ‘shroud of darkness’, Nov. 6, 2020

PolitiFact, No, these FiveThirtyEight graphs don’t prove voter fraud, Nov. 4, 2020

PolitiFact, Fact-checking the avalanche of Wisconsin election misinformation, Nov. 4, 2020 

FiveThirtyEight, Live election results blog, Accessed Nov. 10, 2020 

Phone/Email interview, Brian Rothgery public information manager at Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, Nov. 9, 2020 

Email interview, Kevin Feeley spokesperson for the Philadelphia City Commissioners, Aug. 10, 2020

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More by Samantha Putterman

Election workers didn’t ‘find’ Biden votes overnight. They counted and reported mail in ballots

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