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A small number of people eligible to vote successfully inserted 18 ballots into three of the eight ballot drop boxes in Centre County, Pennsylvania, before the official window of time when the boxes were open to receive ballots.
That was possible because of a defect that is now being corrected, the county elections director said. The ballots were secure and could not be extracted by anyone other than election officials.
The ballots are not evidence of fraud. The voters simply didn’t follow directions, a county official said.
When election officials in Centre County, Pennsylvania, first opened ballot drop boxes to prepare them to collect ballots for the 2022 midterm election, they discovered a small collection of ballots already inside three of the boxes.
The Gateway Pundit, a conservative website known to spread misinformation, reported on those ballots as if they were indicative of fraud or election tampering, fueling a social media narrative.
"BREAKING: Ballots discovered ‘pre-loaded’ inside drop box in Pennsylvania … Two other reportedly also had ‘pre-loaded’ ballots inside the boxes," read The Gateway Pundit headline.
An Instagram user echoed the claim. "Nothing says free and fair elections like preloaded (drop boxes)," said the caption on the Oct. 27 post that shared a screenshot of The Gateway Pundit’s headline.
The Instagram 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 Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)
Although the ballots found in the drop boxes were unexpected and out of the ordinary, they are not evidence of fraud. The voters who put their ballots in too early simply didn’t follow directions, a county elections official said.
On Oct. 25, election officials in Centre County opened the ballot drop boxes in preparation for the 2022 midterm election, said Centre County Elections Director Beth Lechman.
A video shared by The Gateway Pundit shows election officials unlocking a drop box.
Lechman explained that the county elections office gave keys to two officials so they could open the drop boxes and prepare them for use in the 2022 midterm election. A sheriff’s deputy accompanied the officials, she said.
"They were opening the drop boxes to put the sacks in and to remove the defeater bar that keeps voters from placing ballots into the boxes," Lechman said. "When they opened it, they found 10 legitimate ballots."
Lechman emphasized that the ballots were not fraudulent.
"These are voters that have requested ballots," she said. "I have their applications."
How did ballots get into the box early, before the official window of time when the drop boxes are allowed to be used?
After initially finding 10 ballots — and encountering a similar situation at two other ballot drop boxes — Lechman said officials discovered a defect in the ballot boxes that allowed voters to insert their ballots when the deposit slots on the drop boxes were closed and locked. The issue is being corrected, she said.
"Excitement, interest, and participation in the 2022 General Election is through the roof," Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe said. "However, we had a handful of voters who were a bit too eager and prematurely deposited their voted mail-in or absentee ballot into our drop boxes. We will identify ways to avoid this for future elections."
Lechman also said the ballots were secure. Voters could put ballots into the box, but couldn’t get them out.
Because the drop boxes were not officially open when these ballots were dropped off, Lechman said the county is still working on a plan for how it will determine whether the ballots can be counted.
Lechman said ballot drop boxes open a few weeks ahead of Election Day on a date determined based on the county’s election plan. Staff availability also plays a role, since the county empties its eight drop boxes once a day until the drop boxes close at 9 a.m. on Nov. 7.
This year, the drop boxes opened Oct. 25 for the midterm election — a week later than in past elections, Lechman said. She said election officials believe the delay could have led to the confusion and the too-early ballots.
Centre County’s ballot drop boxes are under 24-hour surveillance.
"Centre County takes elections very seriously and is trying to create a secure and transparent environment for voters to cast their ballots," Lechman said.
An Instagram user shared a headline from The Gateway Pundit that claimed ballots were "discovered ‘pre-loaded’" inside drop boxes in Pennsylvania.
A small number of eligible voters successfully inserted their ballots into a few of Centre County’s ballot drop boxes before the window of time when the boxes were officially opened. That was possible because of a defect that is now being corrected.
Although the ballots found in the drop boxes were unexpected, they are not evidence of fraud.
We rate this claim Half True.
Instagram post, Oct. 27, 2022
Interview with Beth Lechman, Centre County Elections Director, Oct. 28, 2022
Emailed statement from Centre County Board of Commissioners, Oct. 28, 2022
Rumble, Pennsylvania Ballot Box Seems *PRE LOADED* with ballots, Oct. 27, 2022
Centre County Elections, Secure ballot drop boxes, Oct. 28, 2022
Centre County Pennsylvania, Centre County Board of Elections ballot return and collection plan 2022 General Election, Sept. 22, 2022
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