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Fact Check: Viral image – Photo of bagged ballots in California isn’t evidence of misconduct, contrary to claims

The Associated Press called California’s gubernatorial election for incumbent Gov. Gavin Newsom on Nov. 8, just minutes after the polls closed.

Newsom won by a large margin over his Republican opponent, but recent social media posts have suggested that his victory was fraudulent. 

“Look at all of those ballots not counted in California and this is only one polling location,” one tweet said. “Yet Gavin Newsom was declared governor minutes after polling stations closed.”

An image in the tweet shows about a couple dozen gray duffel bags on the ground behind several people standing around folding tables bearing white boxes. 

“@gavinnewsom selected, not elected,” said the caption on one Instagram post sharing a screenshot of the tweet.

It was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

The original tweet claims the image was taken at South El Monte Library in Los Angeles County on Nov. 10. 

But Mike Sanchez, a spokesperson for the county registrar’s office, told PolitiFact the picture was not taken there.

The image doesn’t show a polling place; the photo was taken nearly four miles away at the county’s vote-by-mail operation center in the city of Industry, Sanchez said. That is where all absentee ballots are processed and verified before they’re moved to the county’s central vote-counting facility in the city of Downey. 

The bags in the photo contained absentee ballots that were deposited in drop boxes on Election Day and then collected by election workers. After being processed and verified, they are relocated to Downey to be tallied, a process that’s ongoing during the election canvassing period, Sanchez said. 

Sanchez noted that the county hasn’t declared Newsom the winner; news organizations like The Associated Press made the call based on the county’s unofficial election results. Those results are scheduled to be certified Dec. 5 after all eligible votes are tallied, Sanchez said. 

The Associated Press, which called the race for Newsom “minutes after the California polls closed” on election night, calls races once it “is fully confident a race has been won — defined most simply as the moment a trailing candidate no longer has a path to victory.” 

As of Nov. 17, the secretary of state’s office estimated that 1.7 million ballots were still unprocessed in California.

“It typically takes weeks for counties to process and count all of the ballots,” the office’s website says. “Election officials have approximately one month to complete their extensive tallying, auditing, and certification work (known as the official canvass.)”

As of Nov. 17, with all 25,554 precincts in California “partially reporting” their results, Newsom had about 5.4 million votes, or 59%, while Republican state Sen. Brian Dahle had about 3.8 million votes, or 41%.

Dahle conceded on Nov. 9. 

Our ruling

The Instagram post claims that the photo shows uncounted ballots in California at a polling location and suggests that this is evidence of fraud, because Newsom was declared the governor shortly after polls closed. 

There are several points wrong here. 

The photo was taken at a county facility where election workers were processing and verifying absentee ballots. They were uncounted, because they had not yet been relocated to the county’s central location for tallying votes. This process typically takes weeks, and it’s not evidence of fraud, as this post suggests. 

The Associated Press — not the state of California, which was still counting ballots as we wrote this fact-check — declared Newsom the winner after the polls closed. The Associated Press calls winners in races when it concludes there’s no way a trailing candidate can mount a successful comeback and clinch the race. 

California is expected to certify its election results Dec. 5, after all eligible ballots have been counted. 

The statement in the post contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, so we rate it Mostly False.


Source: PolitiFact.