As California’s Sept. 14 election over whether to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom draws closer, unfounded rumors about the event are growing.
Here are two that are circulating widely online, how they spread and why, state and local officials said, they are wrong.
Rumor No. 1: Holes in the ballot envelopes were being used to screen out votes that say “yes” to a recall.
On Aug. 19, a woman posted a video on Instagram of herself placing her California special election ballot in an envelope.
“You have to pay attention to these two holes that are in front of the envelope,” she said, bringing the holes close to the camera so viewers could see them. “You can see if someone has voted ‘yes’ to recall Newsom. This is very sketchy and irresponsible in my opinion, but this is asking for fraud.”
The idea that the ballot envelope’s holes were being used to weed out the votes of those who wanted Gov. Newsom, a Democrat, to be recalled rapidly spread online, according to a review by The New York Times.
The California Recall Election
The Instagram video collected nearly half a million views. On the messaging app Telegram, posts that said California was rigging the special election amassed nearly 200,000 views. And an article about the ballot holes on the far-right site The Gateway Pundit reached up to 626,000 people on Facebook, according to data from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned social media analytics tool.
State and local officials said the ballot holes were not new and were not being used nefariously. The holes were placed in the envelope, on either end of a signature line, to help low-vision voters know where to sign it, said Jenna Dresner, a spokeswoman for the California Secretary of State’s Office of Election Cybersecurity.
The ballot envelope’s design has been used for several election cycles, and civic design consultants recommended the holes for accessibility, added Mike Sanchez, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County registrar. He said voters could choose to put the ballot in the envelope in such a way that didn’t reveal any ballot marking at all through a hole.
Instagram has since appended a fact-check label to the original video to note that it could mislead people. The fact check has reached up to 20,700 people, according to CrowdTangle data.
Rumor No. 2: A felon stole ballots to help Governor Newsom win the recall election.
On Aug. 17, the police in Torrance, Calif., published a post on Facebook that said officers had responded to a call about a man who was passed out in his car in a 7-Eleven parking lot. The man had items such as a loaded firearm, drugs and thousands of pieces of mail, including more than 300 unopened mail-in ballots for the special election, the police said.
Far-right sites such as Red Voice Media and Conservative Firing Line claimed the incident was an example of Democrats’ trying to steal an election through mail-in ballots. Their articles were then shared on Facebook, where they collectively reached up to 1.57 million people, according to CrowdTangle data.
Mark Ponegalek, a public information officer for the Torrance Police Department, said the investigation into the incident was continuing. The U.S. postal inspector was also involved, he said, and no conclusions had been reached.
As a result, he said, online articles and posts concluding that the man was attempting voter fraud were “baseless.”
“I have no indication to tell you one way or the other right now” whether the man intended to commit election fraud with the ballots he collected, Mr. Ponegalek said. He added that the man may have intended to commit identity fraud.