How do you spread a rumor without taking responsibility for spreading it? By saying you don’t vouch for its accuracy — yet.
That’s what Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis., did on CNN on the topic of vote rigging. In an interview on the Situation Room, Duffy said he didn’t have evidence of "widespread problems across the country," but he went out of his way to relay some troubling reports.
"Articles that I have read, I haven't verified them," Duffy told host Wolf Blitzer on Oct. 27, 2016. "But we heard that one of George Soros' companies has provided some of the machines for some of these states. And, obviously, Mr. Soros leans left. I haven't personally verified that yet."
The claim about billionaire Soros emerged on several conservative websites. One Daily Caller report said, "Smartmatic, a U.K.-based voting technology company with deep ties to George Soros, has provided voting technology in 16 states including battleground zones like Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Virginia."
The article noted that Smartmatic stated on its website that it "will not be deploying its technology in any U.S. county for the upcoming 2016 U.S. presidential elections."
That nuance was lost on many people. More than 125,000 signed a petition posted Oct. 21, 2016, on the White House website that said, "We the people ask Congress to meet in emergency session about removing George Soros-owned voting machines from 16 states."
To be clear, abundant evidence shows that Soros owns no voting machines in the United States.
To go further, the link between Soros and Smartmatic is gossamer thin.
Company CEO Antonio Mugica and chairman Lord Mark Malloch-Brown said in a statement, "George Soros has zero ownership or involvement in our company. Smartmatic has no ties to political parties or groups in any country and it abides by a strict code of ethics that forbids the company from donating to any political campaigns of any kind."
The one connection between Soros and Malloch-Brown is that Malloch-Brown sits on the global board of Soros’ Open Society Foundations. Malloch-Brown is a former minister of State in the British cabinet and, as the Smartmatic website stated, he is a member of "a number of non-profit boards addressing global issues from poverty reduction to conflict resolution."
On top of all this, no state is using Smartmatic machines in this election.
The Verified Voting Foundation, a group founded by a Stanford computer scientist to promote accuracy in voting, tracks all companies that provide voting equipment in the United States. Smartmatic has no such equipment in any state. (Hat-tip to Snopes, the internet rumor-zapping website that first dug into this.) The Utah Republican Party used a Smartmatic system in the 2016 primary, and Los Angeles County tested one element for provisional and mail-in ballots.
All of this information was available before Duffy’s interview. (In addition to Snopes and the Washington Post, investigative journalism website ProPublica also debunked the idea.)
Duffy’s communications director Mark Bednar said, "Congressman Duffy didn't claim anything in particular and merely spoke about what people have been recently discussing throughout the nation."
Duffy said that there were unverified reports that a George Soros company was providing voting machines in certain states. In the week before Duffy said that, those reports had been fully discredited three times. Soros owns no company that offers voting machines, and the company named in the rumor has no voting machines in the United States.
To call a baseless rumor "unverified" after it has been thoroughly debunked twists the meaning of the word.
We rate this claim Pants On Fire.