Q: Did a U.S. judge invalidate the results of Pennsylvania’s special election due to “wide-scale voter fraud”?
A: No. That’s a fictitious story first posted on a self-described satirical website.
Many political observers considered Democrat Conor Lamb’s apparent razor-thin victory in Pennsylvania this week to be significant in its message: It could be a barometer of Democratic strength heading into this year’s midterm congressional elections — especially in Republican strongholds.
But, on some dubious websites, the Pennsylvania 18th Congressional District election was notable for different reasons.
One bogus story said a federal judge invalidated the results, “calling them ‘tainted beyond reproach.’” That post, on the website timesfeed.info, claimed “the 45th Federal Appeals Court of Westmoreland County found that 22K possible cases of fraud were more than enough to call for a new, ID required special election.”
Facebook users flagged the story as potentially false. It is.
When a Facebook group called “America — Love It Or Leave It” shared the site’s special election story, one commenter responded: “No wonder our children are so screwed up today when our adult government officials are a bunch of liars and cheaters.”
But there is no such thing as the “the 45th Federal Appeals Court of Westmoreland County,” as the story cited. The judge referenced in the story, “Marshawn Little,” is not real, either, as a review the Federal Judicial Center’s online directory of federal judges shows.
Other special election stories on dailyworldupdate.com alleged that “trucks full of illegals casted fake votes” and that “voters reported more than 470 incidents in which they tryed [sic] to vote for Rick Saccone but instead found their vote changed to Conor Lamb.”
And while those stories are false, too, they all entered a news cycle rife with actual developments about the election, including anonymous allegations of possible voting machine glitches and the real prospect of a recount — perhaps worsening confusion about what’s fact and what’s not.
As of March 16, Republicans were still mulling a recount in the tight race. Lamb was ahead by 627 votes in a race that had 228,378 total ballots cast, according to the state’s official results. No winner has been officially declared, and a Pennsylvania Department of State spokeswoman said there are about 400 provisional, military and overseas ballots, which could still affect the vote.
“We can’t say for sure until we actually have the (final) count,” Matt Gorman, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, told FactCheck.org when asked about a recount request. “Based on what we’ve heard so far, I think it’s likely.”
The NRCC did request that the four counties in the 18th Congressional District — Allegheny, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland — “impound,” or preserve and secure, all ballots and machines used in the election, Gorman said, and they complied.
Gorman said he is aware of “numerous reports” of voting machine miscalibration — resulting in people’s votes for Saccone registering as votes for Lamb — though he could not quantify those reports. The NRCC has launched a digital campaign seeking voters who experienced voting irregularities or issues, he said.
It’s not clear to what extent such issues existed.
Wanda Murren, the Pennsylvania Department of State spokeswoman, told us in an email that the four counties in the 18th District had received “very few calls from voters about calibration issues with voting machines.”
“The majority of the calls were not from individual voters who personally experienced a problem with selecting their candidate of choice,” she said. “In an abundance of caution, Greene County sent technicians to two polling locations to recalibrate voting systems.”
The NRCC also plans to air out several other concerns, Gorman said. Those include a counsel for the GOP being restricted from observing an absentee ballot count and confusion over information on a state website about Pennsylvania’s forthcoming changes to the state’s congressional districts.
It’s not clear what, if anything, will come of those claims, but they have no bearing on the false stories about 22,000 fraudulent votes or claims that the election result has been invalidated.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to help identify and label false stories flagged by readers on the social media network.
Baker, Peter and Michael D. Shear. “Strong Performance by Democrat Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania Shakes Trump and G.O.P.” The New York Times. 14 Mar 2018.
“Biographical Directory of Article III Federal Judges, 1789-present.” Federal Judicial Center. Accessed 15 Mar 2018.
“BREAKING: Federal Judge Nullifies PA Election Results For ‘Wide-Scale Voter Fraud.’” dailyworldupdate.com. 14 Mar 2018.
“BREAKING: Trucks Full Of Illegals Casted Fake Votes In Pennsylvania Race.” dailyworldupdate.com. 14 Mar 2018.
“BREAKING: Voting Machines In 19 of 23 PA Districts Changed Votes To Conor Lamb.” dailyworldupdate.com. 14 Mar 2018.
Caplan, Josh. “WOW! Republicans Say PA Voting Machines ‘Miscalibrated’, Saccone Votes Changed To Lamb.” The Gateway Pundit. 15 Mar 2018.
“Federal Judge Nullifies PA Election Results For ‘Wide-Scale Voter Fraud.’” timesfeed.info. 15 Mar 2018.
Gorman, Matt. Spokesman, National Republican Congressional Committee. Interview with FactCheck.org. 16 Mar 2018.
Murren, Wanda. Spokeswoman, Pennsylvania Department of State. Emails sent to FactCheck.org. 15-16 Mar 2018.
“Pennsylvania Elections – Office Results.” Pennsylvania Department of State. Accessed 15 Mar 2018.
Scher, Brent. “GOP Cites Numerous Issues at Polling Sites Ahead of Likely Pennsylvania Recount.” The Washington Free Beacon. 14 Mar 2018.
Weigel, David and Mike DeBonis. “Republicans hint at recount in Pennsylvania congressional race, with odds against them.” The Washington Post. 15 March 2018.