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In this June 9, 2020, file photo election workers process mail-in ballots during a nearly all-mail primary election in Las Vegas. (AP) In this June 9, 2020, file photo election workers process mail-in ballots during a nearly all-mail primary election in Las Vegas. (AP)

In this June 9, 2020, file photo election workers process mail-in ballots during a nearly all-mail primary election in Las Vegas. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman September 9, 2020

Post wrongly says thousands of ballots sent to dead people, pets in Virginia and Nevada

If Your Time is short

  • A voter registration group sent 500,000 applications for absentee ballots — not actual ballots — to Virginia voters. The applications had the wrong elections office return address.

  • Around 226,000 ballots sent to voters in Clark County, Nev., were returned as undeliverable because the voters no longer lived at the addresses.

  • In neither case was there evidence of thousands of ballots being sent to dead people and pets.

A false Facebook post states that two battleground states sent huge numbers of ballots to dead people and pets.

"Why isn’t anyone mentioning over 500,000 mail in ballots found in Virginia and 200,000 in Nevada in dead peoples names and pets," stated an Aug. 10 Facebook post shared thousands of times.

This 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.) 

The post twists two news stories. One was a story out of Virginia about mail ballot applications for the Nov. 3 election. And the second was a story out of Nevada about mail ballots sent during the June 9 Nevada primary. Neither state has sent ballots to voters for the Nov. 3 general election and in neither case was there evidence of thousands of ballots being sent to dead people and pets.

Group sent ballot applications with wrong return address in Virginia
 

The claim about Virginia stems from mailings from the Center for Voter Information, a national voter registration group that describes itself as nonpartisan but was started by a Democratic strategist. 

In August, the group sent absentee ballot request applications to 2.2 million voters in Virginia, including about 500,000 that had return envelopes addressed to the wrong elections offices.

The group, which is a partner of the Voter Participation Center, apologized for providing wrong information, and its printer took responsibility. The group said that the error stemmed from confusing some cities and counties with similar names. Election officials around the country have said that the center’s mailings have created confusion, but the group defended its work saying it encouraged voting.

Virginia elections officials said they had nothing to do with the center’s mailing and encouraged voters who want to receive ballots to apply on the state’s website.

So, how did the inaccurate mailings lead to false posts that claim the 500,000 were sent to "dead people’s names and pets"?

Deb Wake, president of the League of Women Voters of Virginia, told DC-area news radio station WTOP-FM 103.5: "One person stated that a dead person received one and a pet received one." 

Wake told PolitiFact that she regrets sharing that anecdote. She said she based her comments on something she’d heard from a league member who said she had a friend who received one ballot application for a pet and dead relative.

President Donald Trump chimed in as well:

"Half a million incorrect absentee ballot applications were sent all across the state of Virginia, including to many dead people…," Trump said during a briefing with reporters Aug. 10. "They had some sent to pets — dogs."

RELATED: Will 458,000 Vote-By-Mail Ballots Go To Californians Who Have Died Or Moved? Experts Are Skeptical

Featured Fact-check

One Nevada county had many ballots returned, but not proof all were dead people

Due to the pandemic, Nevada passed a law to send mail ballots to all active voters.

In advance of the June 9 primary, Clark County sent out about 1.3 million ballots. The county, which includes Las Vegas and is the largest in the state, mailed the ballots to addresses provided by voters when they registered. About 226,000 ballots were returned to elections officials because the voters no longer lived there, said Dan Kulin, a spokesperson for the Clark County Election Department.

"This is a common way for us to discover someone has moved," Kulin said.

But the fact that they were returned is not evidence that all of the people had died — nor is it evidence of fraud. In fact, it is a sign that the system worked as designed. Postal workers are not allowed to forward ballots if they have a forwarding address — they are required to return them, said Wayne Thorley, deputy secretary of state for elections.

The state elections office receives daily death data from the state’s vital statistics office. It also gets death data every other month from the Social Security Administration. The state then passes along the data to the counties so that they can remove dead voters from their registration lists. There can be a time lag in updating the rolls.

"If we print the ballot today and a voter dies tomorrow that’s going to get mailed to them," Thorley said. "The voter roll is constantly in flux. You take a snapshot right now, and in 5 minutes it is out of date because somebody moved or passed away."

It’s possible that anecdotal reports fueled misinformation.

A long time postal worker, Jenny Trobiani, told the Las Vegas Review Journal in May that she had never seen such an influx of undeliverable ballots.

"(The recipients) had all moved or died," Trobiani said. 

Dead people on registration lists does not automatically mean fraud 

The fact that dead people remain on voter rolls nationwide does not itself equal fraud — it’s only a crime if someone then fills out a ballot in the name of a dead voter and sends it in. 

The likelihood that voter fraud can happen because of dead people on the rolls is very low, said Thessalia Merivaki, an expert on voter administration and political science professor at Mississippi State University. 

"Election administrators verify a lot of information prior to processing a ballot, be it by mail or in person …," Merivaki said. "The same applies for voter registration. All information is verified, so it is highly unlikely that dead people can register to vote."

States have significantly improved keeping their registration records up to date by joining the national Electronic Registration Information Center, which sends reports to member states showing when voters have moved within their state or out of state, when they have died and flagging when they may have duplicate registrations. 

Our ruling

Facebook posts said more than 500,000 mail in ballots in Virginia and 200,000 in Nevada were sent to dead people or pets.

In Virginia, about 500,000 voters received an application for a ballot — not an actual ballot — that included the wrong return address for elections offices. In Nevada, around 226,000 ballots for the primary were returned to Clark County because the voters didn’t live at the address. 

In neither case, does that add up to evidence that hundreds of thousands of dead people and pets received ballots.

We rate this claim False. 

Our Sources

Facebook post, Aug. 10, 2020

VPM NPR, Voter Registration Group Sends 500,000 Incorrect Forms, Aug. 6, 2020

Virginia elections department, Press release, Aug. 6, 2020

Center for Voter Information, Virginia statement, Aug. 6, 2020

Center for Voter Information, Statement from printer, Aug. 7, 2020

WTOP, Company explains ‘major error’ that led to half-million erroneous ballot applications in Virginia, Aug. 7, 2020

Washington Post, Yes, tons of ballots are sent to dead people. Trump shouldn’t worry about them. Aug. 19, 2020

AP, False claims circulate about mail-in-ballots in Virginia and Nevada, Sept. 3, 2020

CBS, Nonprofit Voter Participation Center sends election registration docs to dogs, dead people, July 13, 2012

Tampa Bay Times, This national group aims to register more voters. Pasco’s elections office has some concerns. Jan. 22, 2020

Florida election supervisors, Letter, April 7, 2020

Washington Post, Mail-in ballot applications in Virginia tap into worries about fraud with faulty instructions, Aug. 6, 2020

NPR, A Big Vote Registration Push Reaches Millions — But Divides Elections Officials, Feb. 13, 2020

White House, Remarks by President Trump in Press Briefing, Aug. 10, 2020

Las Vegas Review-Journal, Primary underway, but argument over mail election continues, May 19, 2020

Center for Voter Information CEO and President, Tom Lopach, Statement to PolitiFact, Sept. 4, 2020

Telephone interview, Dan Kulin, Clark County, Nevada elections spokesperson, Sept. 8, 2020

Telephone interview, Wayne Thorley, deputy Secretary of State for elections, Sept. 4, 2020Email interview, Andrea Gaines, Virginia Department of Elections spokesperson, Sept. 8, 2020

Email interview, Thessalia Merivaki, an expert on voter administration and political science professor at Mississippi State University, Sept. 7, 2020

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Post wrongly says thousands of ballots sent to dead people, pets in Virginia and Nevada

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