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Poll workers sort out early and absentee ballots at the Kenosha Municipal building on Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E) Poll workers sort out early and absentee ballots at the Kenosha Municipal building on Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Poll workers sort out early and absentee ballots at the Kenosha Municipal building on Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg November 10, 2020

Debunking the ‘Hammer and Scorecard’ election fraud conspiracy theory

If Your Time is short

  • The government’s head of cyber security declared the Hammer and Scorecard theory to be "nonsense."

  • As evidence of 2020 meddling, the theory cites CNN election night coverage of the 2019 Kentucky governor’s race that briefly shows inconsistent results in favor of the Democrat, who ultimately won by more than 5,000 votes.

  • There is no indication of voter fraud in the 2019 Kentucky governor’s race.

Some fans of President Donald Trump are sharing the theory that a package of CIA computer programs have hacked the 2020 election. One program, called Hammer, cracks into protected networks, while another, called Scorecard, changes vote totals.

Pamela Geller, a right-wing activist and Trump supporter, has posted more than one piece about Hammer and Scorecard. On Nov. 9, her website Geller Report offered an item headlined, "HAMMER / Scorecard Voter Software Fraud in Real Time."

Geller offered a video clip taken from CNN’s 2019 election coverage of the Kentucky governor’s race that she called, "Vote switching right in front of your eyes."

Geller's 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.)

Before we dive in, let’s be clear that independent election security researchers see no evidence that Hammer and Scorecard exist, and the head of the Cybersecurity and  Infrastructure Security Agency, a government body created by President Donald Trump in 2018, has said this theory of election interference is "nonsense." 

With that, let’s look at the CNN evidence that Geller takes to be telling.

Dissecting CNN Kentucky election coverage

The video consists of a man giving a running commentary on shifting result totals in the 2019 Kentucky governor’s race in which Democrat Andy Beshear defeated incumbent Republican Matt Bevin. At one key moment in CNN’s live broadcast, the vote totals change inconsistently. 

A large graphic shows Beshear with a total of 674,508, while a smaller running total at the bottom of the screen gives him 673,948. According to the man giving the commentary, the total at the bottom of the screen runs behind the more current one on the larger graphic. In that light, a difference of 560 votes makes sense. The one on the bottom has yet to catch up.

But at the same moment, Bevin’s totals show 661,675 on the large graphic, while the one at the bottom shows 662,235. That’s 560 votes less than the most up-to-date one on the big graphic. In the view of Geller and the man speaking on the video, the fraud is obvious.

"You have just seen 25% of the loss amount of this race happen in front of your very eyes," the man giving the commentary said.

In the final official tally, Beshear won by over 5,000 votes.

Is this proof of shenanigans?

Two election security experts we reached were unimpressed.

No sign of Hammer and Scorecard

"The broader issue here is that the election night results are not official," said Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Charles Stewart III. "There’s a post-election canvas period when results are checked and mistakes spotted and corrected."

Stewart said there’s a key flaw in the theory that the purported software package of Hammer and Scorecard could intercept the digital transmission of vote results and change them. He said the states that do send data that way also keep the data tapes of votes from the original machines.

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"The results only become official after the election department has compared the paper tapes  — which are immune to supposed hack — to the initially transferred results," Stewart said.

The CNN election night results are "the sports aspect of elections, not the binding results," said statistics professor at the University of California-Berkeley Philip Stark.

Stark cautioned that no election system comes with 100% ironclad protection against hacking.

"Nothing is perfect, and they are all vulnerable," Stark said. He advocates for greater use of paper ballots and careful post-election audits.

But that said, Stark sees no evidence that any results have been altered in this election or past ones. Regarding the CNN inconsistencies, he noted that CNN contracted for the data feed from a third party vendor. That puts CNN’s number even further removed from the official tally.

Stark said nothing in the CNN example holds up.

"That’s not how anyone would hack an election," Stark said. "If you really wanted to change the total, you would not change it on election night, where everyone could see it. You would change it in the voting tabulation system."

And for those who think Hammer and Scorecard were deployed in the 2020 election, Stark said that raises the question of why skeptics look only at the presidential race.

"If the motivation was to put the Democrats in power, why didn’t they flip the Senate?"  Stark  posed. "Biden will have a hard time without the Senate. Why would you leave the job half done?"

One of the main promoters of the Hammer and Scorecard theory is a discredited military contractor who claims to have created them. 

We asked Geller to respond to the issues raised above. She didn’t address the specific matters but said that she sees ample evidence of fraud, including "eyewitness accounts of tens of thousands of ballots coming in the back door (that) should give even you pause, despite your baked-in far-left bias."

We have debunked multiple claims of fraud, including 14,000 dead people voting in Michigan, and poll workers in Pennsylvania filling out ballots.

Our ruling

Geller said that a 2019 CNN video clip shows the work of purported CIA-built hacking software Hammer and Scorecard in action. The clip shows a momentary glitch in election night totals.

The head of the government agency created by Trump to protect against cyber attacks called the Hammer and Scorecard theory, "nonsense."

Election security experts said election night totals are distinct from official results, and post-Election Day vetting by state officials catches discrepancies between local results and totals calculated at the central office. They also noted that if someone truly wanted to steal an election, the example Geller cited makes no practical sense.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire.

CORRECTION: This report has been changed to correct the description of the narrator's discussion of the winning margin in the Beshear-Bevin race.

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

Our Sources

Geller Report, HAMMER / Scorecard Voter Software Fraud in Real Time, Nov. 9, 2020

Geller Report, ‘Hammer’ and ‘Scorecard’: Lt. Gen. McInerney explains the election hack by Democrats,  Nov. 7, 2020

Chris Krebs, tweet, Nov. 7, 2020

YouTube, video, Nov. 8, 2020

Reuters, TV news clip does not show ‘live computerized fraud’ on Election Day 2020, Nov. 9, 2020

Lead Stories, Secret Super-Computer Is NOT Stealing Votes Through Voter Interface Contractor, Nov. 3, 2020

Daily Beast, Infamous ‘Hoax’ Artist Behind Trumpworld’s New Voter Fraud Claim, Nov. 9, 2020

Commonwealth of Kentucky State Board of Elections, Official Nov. 5, 2019 results, accessed Nov. 10, 2020

Interview, Philip B. Stark, professor of statistics and associate dean of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, University of California-Berkeley, Nov. 10, 2020

Email exchange, Charles Stewart III, professor of political science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nov. 10. 2020

Email exchange, Pamela Geller, activist, Nov. 10, 2020


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Debunking the ‘Hammer and Scorecard’ election fraud conspiracy theory

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