Q: Was “voter fraud” responsible for Democratic wins in Orange County, California?
A: There have been no credible complaints of voter fraud in Orange County following the midterm elections.
That shift has prompted writers across the political spectrum to publish thoughtful analytical pieces examining the forces that attributed to the change. One bogus story, however, claimed that the outcome was due to voter fraud, and it has been shared on social media with a combined 3.8 million followers.
That story, posted on the conservative site Gateway Pundit, proclaimed in its headline: “VOTER FRAUD: Orange County Numbers DON’T ADD UP – Democrats Had 300,000 More Votes for Congressional Seats than for Governor.”
But it offered no evidence to support the claim of voter fraud and incorrectly calculated the vote totals.
The story claims:
Gateway Pundit, Nov. 19: 300,000 (299,931) more Democrats voted for the Democrats in the Orange County Congressional races than voted for Democrat Gavin Newsom for governor.
This screams of voter fraud.
And Republican John Cox beat Newsome [sic] by 12,000 votes in Orange County.
This makes no sense and points to fraud.
The story reaches that conclusion by adding up the number of votes cast for the Democratic congressional candidates in six districts within Orange County and subtracting the number of votes cast in the county for Newsom, the Democratic candidate for governor.
But there are a few things wrong there:
- The story gets the numbers wrong. Cox beat Newsom in Orange County by 2,934 votes, not 12,000, according to the unofficial results from the county as of Nov. 21.
- There are actually seven congressional districts in Orange County, but the story doesn’t account for the 38th Congressional District.
- Most importantly, the story uses vote tallies for six entire congressional districts when some of those districts include voting precincts in neighboring counties. Only three of the districts are wholly within Orange County, so the total number of votes cited in the story is inflated.
For example, the 49th Congressional District lies mostly in San Diego County with only part of the district in Orange County. In that district, Orange County voters cast 31,958 ballots for Democrat Mike Levin out of a districtwide total of 150,536 ballots for Levin. Although Levin won the district, his Republican opponent, Diane Harkey, got more votes in Orange County. Harkey received 36,978 votes in the county.
Counting only the votes cast by Orange County voters for Democratic congressional candidates (including the 38th District), the difference between that total and the number of votes cast for Newsom is 37,027, not 300,000, as of Nov. 21.
That means that 37,027 people may have split their votes between parties, if they voted in both the congressional and gubernatorial races.
Gateway Pundit later updated its story, changing the headline and adding county vote tallies, too. But, the story says, “This (still) screams of voter fraud,” without offering any evidence to support the fraud claim.
Neal Kelley, the registrar of voters for Orange County, didn’t see anything suspect in the numbers. About a third of the county’s voters aren’t registered with a party, he said in an interview with FactCheck.org, and those voters frequently split their votes between parties. “What I’m seeing doesn’t surprise me at all,” he said.
Kelley also said that none of the complaints of potential voter fraud that his office has investigated have resulted in a legitimate case.
Stuart Rothenberg, a senior editor at Inside Elections and a nonpartisan political observer, offered another explanation for the split ballots in an interview with FactCheck.org. Voters see congressional midterm elections as a referendum on the sitting president, he said, and “electing a governor is a completely different matter.”
Also, Rothenberg said, college-educated white suburban women moved substantially away from supporting Republican candidates for federal office in the midterms. “Those are the demographics in Orange County,” he said, adding that those voters might well maintain support for Republican candidates in state or local elections.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on the social media network.
Orange County. Unofficial results. 6 Nov 2018.
Hoft, Jim. “VOTER FRAUD: Orange County Numbers DON’T ADD UP – Democrats Had 300,000 More Votes for Congressional Seats than for Governor.” TheGatewayPundit.com. 19 Nov 2018.
Orange County. Election Data Central. Accessed 20 Nov 2018.
California Secretary of State. U.S. Representative District 49 – District-wide Results. 21 Nov 2018.
Kelley, Neal. Registrar of Voter for Orange County. Interview with FactCheck.org 20 Nov 2018.
Rothenberg, Stuart. Senior editor, Inside Elections. Interview with FactCheck.org. 20 Nov 2018.