No, a Florida whistleblower did not uncover 'massive voter fraud' (and other election hoaxes you might be seeing online)

Published Nov. 9, 2016

Welcome to What Was Fake on the Internet This Election, a semiregular series that makes us fear for democracy, without fail, every time we write it. Seeing as Election Day is Tuesday, however, this should mark the end of it!

1. Barack Obama did not encourage undocumented immigrants to vote.

Dozens of YouTube channels are running with an interview clip that, they allege, shows the president urging noncitizens to vote illegally. In fact, as Obama makes clear at three different points in the 30-second clip, he's speaking not to undocumented immigrants, but to their U.S.-born or naturalized children - who can and should legally vote, because they're U.S. citizens.

The interview, granted to the YouTube network MiTú, was intended to debunk voting myths in the Latino community; this specific question related to fears that any contact with the system may open up a legal voter's family to immigration scrutiny. These are Obama's remarks in full:

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"First of all, when you vote, you are a citizen yourself. And there is not a situation where the voting rolls somehow are transferred over and people start investigating, et cetera. The sanctity of the vote is strictly confidential in terms of who you voted for.

"If you have a family member who maybe is undocumented, then you have an even greater reason to vote … People are discouraged from voting, and part of what is important for Latino citizens is to make your voice heard, because you're not just speaking for yourself. You're speaking for family members, friends, classmates of yours in school who may not have a voice. Who can't legally vote. But they're counting on you to make sure that you have the courage to make your voice heard."

So where did all the confusion come from? Well - we blame interviewer Gina Rodriguez in part for this.

Rodriguez, best known for her starring role in "Jane the Virgin," refers broadly to a fear of voting among "millennials, Dreamers (and) undocumented citizens," failing to articulate that - while all these people may be concerned about immigration rumors - the millennials are the only ones of the bunch who actually cast a ballot. It's also confusing that both she and Obama say "citizen," but mean it in totally opposite ways: She's referring to undocumented immigrants ("I call them citizens because they contribute to this country") and he to people who are here legally ("when you vote, you are a citizen yourself").

Still, you'd have to willfully misinterpret the whole exchange to come away thinking that Obama was encouraging voter fraud. Which is, incidentally, the exact sort of work that channels like "Wake Up America" thrive on (!).

2. An FBI agent involved in the Clinton email case was not found dead in Maryland.

Versions of this story have circulated r/conspiracy for years, but the latest iteration has a very specific source: the Denver Guardian, a "news" site with no other articles whose domain was registered four months ago.

As the Denver Post (it is real!!) reports, the Denver Guardian does not exist - nor does the Maryland town named in the Guardian's story, nor the police chief prominently quoted therein. That makes this story just another example of the hyperpartisan fakery flooding Facebook this election; at one point over the weekend it was being shared as many as 100 times per minute.

3. A Florida whistleblower did not uncover "massive voter fraud" last week.

On the internet, an affidavit is forever - even when the events it describes have been widely debunked. Case in point: Countless blogs and Facebook pages continue to share the scanned statement of a former elections temp days after an investigation found nothing was going on.

The temp, Chelsey Marie Smith, reported seeing workers at the Broward County Board of Elections filling out blank ballots en masse - a scene that she assumed meant they were tampering with the election. As the Sun-Sentinel has reported, however, the State Attorney's Office looked into her allegations and found no evidence anything "illegal or improper" was going on. In a statement to the conservative news site Independent Journal Review, the office elaborated:

"It was determined that the ballots were being completed by SOE staff on behalf of overseas military personnel who had voted by faxing their ballots to the election office. The fax paper does not scan into the voting machines and the votes must be transferred onto a ballot that can be scanned. State law allows such a transfer of vote to a computer ballot."

Local officials have stepped-up oversight of the elections office in the aftermath of the allegations; members of the public are even welcome to drop in and check things out, according to the Miami Herald. Those reassurances have not, alas, stopped headlines like this one from wracking up hundreds of thousands of shares on Facebook and elsewhere:

"BREAKING: Florida Election Employees Caught Faking 1,000's of Stolen Absentee Ballots in Massive Voter Fraud Scheme!"

4. A tweeted photo of Newsweek's next issue doesn't prove the election is rigged.

On Nov. 6, a bookstore employee named Meghan tweeted a mysterious magazine cover: It showed a smiling Clinton under the text "Madam President," as if the election was already over. Does this prove media collusion? Election tampering? The existence of the New World Order, perhaps??

Nah - Newsweek produced a version for Trump, as well. It just hasn't made the Twitter rounds yet.

5. A Republican protester at a recent Trump rally isn't carrying out a voter fraud scheme involving his deceased grandmother.

Austyn Crites, a guy who was ejected from a Trump rally last weekend for holding up an-anti Trump sign, has been the subject of a lot of unfounded internet speculation. The Trump campaign has suggested that his protest was an assassination attempt, despite the lack of any evidence to support that. There's also lots of speculation that Crites, who openly supports Clinton in this election, is a secret Democratic operative (he's been a registered Republican since 2011).

But the wildest of all the rumors is that the voter is also fraudulently casting ballots through his grandmother, whom the conspiracy theorists believe is dead. The rumor seems to originate from this tweet:

"#Trump Reno assassin, Austyn Crites' address has his voting Democratic dead granny & he's voting his CA brother's name under a misspelling."

The theory was eventually picked up by Fox News after making it to a few right-wing blogs. At that point, the Guardian reported that Crites's grandmother, Wilda Austin, is alive and well, and that they have interviewed her in person. The news outlet even hired a licensed notary for the state of Nevada to inspect her identifying documents to verify everything.