NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week
A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out. Here are the facts:
All votes counted in Maricopa County, despite online claims
CLAIM: Uncounted ballots that got mixed with counted ballots at voting sites in Arizona’s Maricopa County were not included in the final midterm election results.
THE FACTS: While such ballots were mixed at two separate voting centers on Election Day, they were properly vetted and accurately tabulated, officials said. During November’s midterm elections, a printing malfunction caused tabulation machines at dozens of voting sites in Maricopa County to reject ballots on Election Day. Poll workers advised voters whose ballots were rejected to put them in a secure drop box referred to as “door 3” or “box 3” to be counted later at the county’s central tabulation facility. And while poll workers were trained to keep such yet-to-be-counted votes separate from those tabulated on-site, the ballots were “returned together,” Megan Gilbertson, a spokesperson for the Maricopa County Elections Department, wrote in an email to The Associated Press. As the state certified its results this week, posts continued to circulate on social media falsely claiming that those ballots were never counted in the final results, with users citing a video of a self-described poll observer speaking at a Nov. 28 Maricopa County Board of Supervisors meeting. The woman in the video said that such ballots were combined at her voting site located “off of Camelback and 7th street.” “They commingled the un-tabulated ballots of drawer 3 with the tabulated ballots,” the woman says in the clip, referring to box 3. “There is no way to ever sort that and track that. Those are lost votes. Those are lost voices.” But, as the county explained in the days after the election, there is a way to sort and track such ballots, and the votes were counted in the final results. Additionally, such ballot mixing only occurred at two voting locations: Desert Hills Community Church in North Phoenix and the Church of Jesus Christ of LDS in Gilbert, according to Gilbertson. There is no record of such ballot mixing occurring at other voting centers, and the county never received a report of the issue occurring at the voting site described by the woman, Gilbertson told the AP by phone on Wednesday. An attempt to reach the woman who made the claim during the Nov. 28 meeting was unsuccessful. At the sites where mixing did occur, affected ballots were isolated and audited to make sure no votes were missed or double counted, Gilbertson wrote in an email this week. That process, called audit reconciliation, involves checking that the total number of ballots from a given vote center matches with the number of voters who checked-in at the site. Observers from both political parties were present. All Election Day ballots are required to undergo the process. “We have redundancies in place that help us ensure each legal ballot is only counted once,” Gilbertson wrote. “This process ensures that no ballot was double counted and that all ballots cast at the Vote Center were counted.” In a November report responding to questions from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, the Maricopa County Elections Department similarly asserted it “retabulated the entire batch of ballots” from the two affected voting centers to ensure the accuracy of the count. Gilbertson said in the days after the election that similar mistakes have been made before, and the process to address it has been in place for decades, the AP reported. “Every single polling location in Maricopa County has a reconciliation audit that’s completed for every single election,” said Tammy Patrick, a former federal compliance officer for the county election department. “It’s been that way literally for 30 years or more.”
— Associated Press writer Josh Kelety in Phoenix contributed this report.
Patent application doesn’t show COVID test was developed in 2015
CLAIM: A COVID-19 test patent application is dated 2020 but was actually filed in 2015.
THE FACTS: The patent application, for a system to determine if someone has a viral infection such as COVID-19, notes that a related provisional patent application was filed in 2015. But while the earlier provisional application is related to the technology in the 2020 application, it made no mention of COVID-19. Social media users are sharing the inaccurate claim through a meme, which implies that COVID-19 was actually known years before it emerged in late 2019. The meme also suggests such information is being censored on social media. “The patent of the covid testkit is hold by Richard A. Rothchild,” a meme shared on Instagram reads, incorrectly spelling the last name of the inventor, Rothschild. “It’s dated in 2020 but was filled 10/13/2015 and it’s called US2020279585(A1).” But the patent application in question was filed in May 2020 and describes a method of using biometric data to “to determine whether the user is suffering from a viral infection, such as COVID-19.” Under a section titled “Related U.S. Application Data,” the application makes note of a provisional application filed on Oct. 13, 2015. What that means, though, is that the patent is related to the provisional application that was filed years ago. They are not one in the same. A provisional application is essentially a placeholder for an intention to file a formal patent application, said Jonathan D’Silva, an assistant professor of clinical law and director of the Intellectual Property Law Clinic at Penn State University. Inventors may file a provisional application for different reasons, such as raising money or publicly disclosing their idea as they work on it, he said. The provisional application in 2015 was for a “System and Method for Using, Processing, and Displaying Biometric Data.” The 2020 patent application, meanwhile, was a “continuation-in-part” of a previous patent application, which means that new material was added, D’Silva said. In this case, the new material included the references to COVID-19. “Generally, you don’t have to guess what was in these other patent applications,” he said, since they’re publicly available. And in the earlier parent applications, “there was no mention of COVID-19.”
— Associated Press writer Angelo Fichera in Philadelphia contributed this report.
Post distorts facts on registered voters in Arizona
CLAIM: Arizona has 9,871,525 registered voters but its population is 7,270,000.
THE FACTS: The state had about 4 million registered voters, which is millions less than its population of about 7 million people. A popular Instagram post is using the erroneous claim to suggest potential election fraud in the state, which has been home to midterm election controversy. “9,871,525 is the number of registered voters in AZ according to FB,” the post reads, “AZ population is 7,270,000.” A caption with the post reads, “ballot harvesting?” — the pejorative term for ballot collection. The laws around dropping off ballots for other voters varies by state and in Arizona, only caregivers, family members or household members can drop off a ballot for someone else. But the post’s claim about registered voters in Arizona is false. Arizona actually logged 4,143,929 voters for the Nov. 8 midterm elections, according to data from the Arizona Secretary of State’s office. The total population in Arizona was 7,276,316, according to a July 2021 estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau.
— Angelo Fichera
Fabricated tweets originated from account impersonating Hallie Biden
CLAIM: President Joe Biden’s daughter-in-law Hallie Biden tweeted that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election. She also tweeted that on election night, first lady Jill Biden phoned election workers to stop counting ballots and “rush in fake ballots.”
THE FACTS: The account that made these tweets is “fraudulent,” said the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children, whose board Hallie Biden chairs. President Joe Biden defeated Trump in the 2020 presidential election, earning 306 electoral votes to Trump’s 232, and there was no evidence of widespread fraud. The fabricated tweets attributed to Hallie Biden — the widow of the president’s deceased son Beau Biden — resurfaced after circulating in past months. The fake tweets claim that on election night in 2020, Jill Biden was on the phone with “state legislators and the people who tabulate the vote” to stop the count and execute a deal to “rush in fake ballots.” “President Trump won that election and my entire family knows it,” one of the fabricated tweets reads. “Ms. Hallie Biden does not have a Twitter account,” the foundation said in an emailed statement. “Any account bearing her name is fraudulent.” An internet archive search for the Twitter account that posted the tweets, @HallieBiden, shows that it was suspended for violating the platform’s rules between late August and early September 2022. The platform had a policy against impersonation, which it has continued to prioritize under new ownership. Archived versions of the account show that it posted numerous false and unverified claims about the election being stolen and about Presidents Biden and Obama and their families.
— Associated Press writer Ali Swenson in New York contributed this report.
Traffic plan in Oxfordshire, England, isn’t a ‘climate lockdown’
CLAIM: The county of Oxfordshire, England, which includes the city of Oxford, is imposing a “climate lockdown” that will confine residents to their neighborhoods.
THE FACTS: Oxfordshire has approved a plan to put “traffic filters” on some main roads, restricting drivers’ access during daytime hours and freeing up space for buses, cyclists and pedestrians. But car owners can apply for daylong permits to bypass the new rules, and many other vehicles are exempt. All parts of the county will remain accessible by car, officials said. Last week, local leaders in Oxfordshire voted to try a new traffic reduction system in an effort to reduce congestion in the county’s namesake city. Some on social media have since likened the scheme to stringent government COVID-19 containment policies. “UK. – Oxfordshire Council, part of the 15 minute city club, has passed a plan to trial a Climate lockdown,” tweeted one user, alongside a screenshot of an article warning that “residents will be confined to their local neighbourhood.” The plan “would control movements in a gated city, allowing only 100 car journeys in & out per car & monitoring all movements,” the tweet continued. But Oxfordshire’s “traffic filters” will not block access to any part of the city of Oxford or the rest of the county, let alone lock people in their neighborhoods, the county government told The Associated Press. “Everywhere in the city will still be accessible by car,” Paul Smith, spokesperson for the Oxfordshire County Council, wrote in an email. “Nobody will need permission from the county council to drive or leave their home.” The “traffic filters” are license plate recognition cameras, not physical barriers. From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., drivers in private cars will be automatically fined if they cross through the filters without a permit. Motorists who live in Oxford will be able to apply for 100 daylong permits to drive through the filters per year. The “15 minute city club” referenced by one of the misleading tweets is an unrelated urban planning framework under which city residents would ideally be able to reach essential services within a 15-minute walk or bike ride from their home. Officials with the city of Oxford have separately proposed pursuing these goals. But some on social media have incorrectly linked the two, suggesting the traffic rules will also bar residents from leaving their neighborhoods. The city and county emphasized in a joint statement that the traffic restrictions will not “be used to confine people” to a given area. “Everyone can go through all the filters at any time by bus, bike, taxi, scooter or walking,” the statement added. Many vehicles, like vans and motorcycles, are exempt from the new rules. Disabled drivers and first responders will likewise not be affected. Drivers who lack a permit will also still be able to access all of the city without being fined. They “might just need to use a different route or drive through the ring road to avoid the traffic filters,” Smith wrote.
— Associated Press writer Graph Massara in San Francisco contributed this report.
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