The claim: Thousands of fake votes found at Wisconsin recount in Dane County
Much of the misinformation circulating widely amid the hard-fought 2020 election boils down to people unfamiliar with election processes making assumptions — trumpeting something as fraud when the issue is actually that they don’t understand the process.
We saw a classic example of this in the latest baseless Gateway Pundit story about Wisconsin vote counting.
The far-right purveyor of election misinformation published a story Nov. 28 with this headline: “BREAKING EXCLUSIVE: THOUSANDS of fake votes found at Wisconsin Recount in Dane County – Photos and Report from GOP Observer.”
The story — which also linked to a long-since debunked claim about a “dump” of votes for Democrat Joe Biden in the middle of the night — contained nothing approaching proof of this claim.
Here’s why this is both wrong and ridiculous.
Publisher tweaks article after question, still wrong
The closest thing to proof presented in the story is a sentence saying the signature (actually referring to initials) MLW was used on the “fake votes.”
It then shows a picture of a ballot with those initials.
But those initials are under a section titled “Absentee ballot issued by.” It’s where the issuing clerk puts their initials on every ballot. The Madison city clerk is Maribeth L. Witzel-Behl — in line with the initials cited in the story.
In other words, those repeated initials are exactly what and where you would expect to find repeated initials on thousands of ballots.
Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell confirmed in an email the initials are simply those of the Madison clerk.
When asked for proof that this picture showed votes were fake, Gateway Pundit Editor Jim Hoft changed the headline within minutes to say the votes were “suspect” rather than fake. And he added a line to the story saying, “Madison County attorneys contacted The Gateway Pundit to say the ballots were signed by the city clerk in Madison, Wisconsin.”
Of course, Hoft didn’t pass along this information to readers until he was challenged on the matter, and after the story had collected thousands of social media shares and comments.
Aside from bungling the location — Madison is a city in Dane County — Hoft’s change points out the obvious reason for the repeated initials, while still asserting there is something underhanded about the ballots – which there isn’t.
Hoft did not offer any other proof of his amended claim in the story or an email exchange.
Our rating: False
We rate this claim FALSE because it is not supported by our research. Two versions of this story claimed initials proved "fake" or "suspect" votes were discovered during the recent recount in Dane County, Wis. Neither claim has any basis in reality.
The repeated initials aren’t those of a voter; they’re initials of the clerk who issued the absentee ballots. That’s not sketchy; it’s just a basic element of how elections are administered.
Our fact-check sources:
City of Madison, Wis., accessed Nov. 30, City Clerk's Office - Contact
Email exchange with Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell, Nov. 30, 2020
Email exchange with Gateway Pundit Editor Jim Hoft, Nov. 30, 2020
Contact Eric Litke at (414) 225-5061 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ericlitke.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: False claim that 'fake votes' found during Wis. recount