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Fact checking the baseless claim that millions of Trump votes were deleted

Posted November 13, 2020 10:59 a.m. EST

— A human error that briefly led to incorrect election results in a Michigan county has spiraled into a sprawling, baseless conspiracy theory suggesting that glitches in widely-used voting software led to millions of miscast ballots.

Conservative media figures, social media users, and President Donald Trump have spread rumors about problems with Dominion Voting Systems, an election technology company that supplies software to many local governments. They've claimed that isolated reports about Election Night glitches raise concerns about election results in states around the country.

"DOMINION DELETED 2.7 MILLION TRUMP VOTES NATIONWIDE," Trump tweeted on Thursday, citing a report from the right-wing One America News Network. Without showing any evidence, he claimed that states using the company's technology had "SWITCHED 435,000 VOTES FROM TRUMP TO BIDEN."

Facts First: Trump's tweet is completely without evidence. There have been no credible reports that any issues with Dominion's technology affected vote counts. While one Georgia county experienced delays reporting its results due to apparent problems with the company's systems, other isolated issues that were allegedly connected to Dominion were actually caused by human error.

Further undermining Trump's claims was the fact that hours after his tweet, federal government agencies released a statement declaring that "the November 3rd election was the most secure in American history." The statement said, "There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised."

One America, which has broadcast a bevy of election misinformation since Election Day, hasn't posted a digital version of its Dominion report on its website or YouTube channel. Charles Herring, the network's president, told CNN in an email on Thursday that the full report would be "highlighted" in an investigative program scheduled to be broadcast on November 21 and 22. Herring did not respond to a question about what evidence its claims are based on.

In other words, the network claims to have proof of widespread voter fraud but is choosing to sit on that proof for more than a week.

Other conservative figures like Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and the President's son Eric Trump have also shared questions about Dominion on social media. Giuliani has claimed to have received an affidavit from someone "inside" Dominion who alleges that batches of "phony" pro-Biden ballots were counted. Giuliani hasn't released any evidence.

Dominion, a Canadian company founded in 2002 with US headquarters in Denver, is the second-largest provider of voting technology in the US, according to a 2017 report from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Public Policy Initiative. In 2016, Dominion's technology was used in 1,635 jurisdictions in more than two dozen states, the report found.

Dominion has not responded to multiple requests for an interview with CNN, but it said in a publicly-released statement that the rumors about problems with its technology were false.

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"No credible reports or evidence of any software issues exist," the company wrote. "While no election is without isolated issues, Dominion Voting Systems are reliably and accurately counting ballots. State and local election authorities have publicly confirmed the integrity of the process."

The rumors started with a vote-tallying problem in Antrim County, Michigan, a Republican stronghold that uses Dominion tabulating machines. The county's initial results showed Joe Biden leading, and election officials quickly realized on election night that something was wrong with their results, the local clerk told the Detroit Free Press last week.

The county uses Dominion's technology to tally ballots, but the mistake was due to human error and not the company's systems, according to the Michigan Secretary of State. The secretary of state's office said a clerk had forgotten to update some of the media drives that went into the ballot tabulation machines, and while the votes were counted correctly, the wrong totals were reported.

"This was an isolated error, there is no evidence this user error occurred elsewhere in the state, and if it did it would be caught during county canvasses, which are conducted by bipartisan boards of county canvassers," the secretary of state's office said in its statement.

Other rumors pointed to Oakland County, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, where initial results mistakenly double-counted votes from the city of Rochester Hills, according to the secretary of state's office. But that was due to human error, not a software issue, the local clerk said.

"As a Republican, I am disturbed that this is intentionally being mischaracterized to undermine the election process," Tina Barton, the clerk of Rochester Hills, Michigan, said in a statement. "This was an isolated mistake that was quickly rectified once realized."

But online, right-wing voices -- including Giuliani, Eric Trump, conservative Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar and Breitbart News -- have seized on those isolated issues as purported evidence of wider "glitches" with Dominion's software.

The only documented voting problem that has been reliably connected with Dominion's systems themselves came in Gwinnett County, Georgia, where officials faced delays on Election Night after they were unable to use the company's software to publish the results of some tallied ballots.

Joe Sorenson, the county's spokesperson, told CNN that the problems the county experienced were only related to publishing results to the secretary of state's office, not the voting process or the counting of votes. He said it wasn't clear why the county had problems, but that Dominion technicians were able to fix their issues.

Sorenson, who's worked for the county for 30 years, said he was surprised with the volume of misinformation that was swirling online surrounding Gwinnett's voting process.

"It really does feel like people believe what they want to believe," he said. "I don't think I've ever seen it quite like this before."

Two other Georgia counties that also use Dominion, Spalding and Morgan, encountered problems with their technology to check in voters -- but those issues were actually connected to technology run by separate companies, an election security expert told The New York Times.

Social media posts have also baselessly alleged ties between Dominion and Democratic leaders, misinformation that was first noted and debunked by The Associated Press.

Several Twitter posts that have been retweeted thousands of times have claimed that the company is involved with the Clinton Foundation. But while Dominion did agree to donate its technology to "emerging democracies" as part of a program run by the Clinton Foundation in 2014, according to the foundation's website, Dominion said in its statement that it has "no company ownership relationships" with the foundation.

Other conservative voices pointed to the fact that Dominion hired Nadeam Elshami, a former chief of staff to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as a lobbyist. Elshami has worked as a lobbyist for Dominion, according to federal disclosures -- but the company has also hired Republican lobbyists, including former aides of former Vice President Dick Cheney and GOP Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

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