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More votes were not cast in Detroit in 2020 than there are people

November 19, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: There are “far more votes” in Detroit than people. 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Around 250,000 votes were cast in Detroit in the 2020 election, which is less than half of Detroit’s population. The false posts appeared to refer to out of balance precincts where the number of names recorded in poll books does not match the number of ballots counted. 

THE FACTS: On Tuesday, false posts on social media claimed that there were more votes reported “than people” in Detroit, a majority Black city and Democratic stronghold. False claims swirled after the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, which includes Detroit, certified election results showing Democrat Joe Biden defeating President Donald Trump. 

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“How did Wayne County of Detroit, Michigan have more votes than people registered to vote?” one Twitter user posted on Tuesday. 

President Donald Trump also tweeted the false claim about Detroit, while falsely stating he won the state of Michigan: “In Detroit, there are FAR MORE VOTES THAN PEOPLE. Nothing can be done to cure that giant scam. I win Michigan!” 

But there were not more votes cast in Detroit than there are people. According to unofficial election results on the City of Detroit’s website, on Nov. 5, there were 250,138 votes cast and 504,714 registered voters. Detroit has an estimated population of 670,000. 

The issue appeared to grow from a deadlock down party lines that occurred as the four members of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers met to certify election results Tuesday night. 

Monica Palmer, one of the two Republicans on the board of canvassers, said poll books in some Detroit precincts were out of balance.

She and the other Republican board member initially cited the discrepancies as a reason not to certify Detroit’s election results -- which Democrats, election experts and spectators at the Wayne County Board of Canvassers meeting condemned as a dangerous attempt to block the results of a free and fair election.

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Jonathan Kinloch, one of the two Democrats on the board, said the discrepancies were the result of “human error” and called it “reckless and irresponsible” to not certify the results, the AP reported. 

Michigan Democratic Party chair Lavora Barnes called the initial 2-2 vote “blatant racism.”

According to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, only 357 votes out of 250,000 votes cast appeared to be out of balance.

“The idea that the out of balance precincts reflects any problem with the voting is utter nonsense,” Duggan said in a press conference Wednesday. “It is not any indication of any kind of fraud in the voting process.”

It is not uncommon for there to be slight inconsistencies between the number of ballots and the number of voter names in a poll book. Typically these issues are due to human error, according to Tammy Patrick, a former Arizona election official who now works for the Democracy Fund, a foundation that works on voting issues.

“That’s not a sign that there’s anything necessarily wrong with the system,” Patrick explained in a call with the AP. “It’s just a sign that elections are conducted by people and for people, and so that kind of interaction with the system is where you can have discrepancies occur.” 

During the August primary and in the 2016 presidential election there were issues with some Detroit precincts being out of balance. Michigan Bureau of Elections completed an audit of the 2016 election, and attributed the discrepancies to human errors, not voter fraud. 

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536