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Pennsylvania did not have hundreds of thousands of phantom absentee ballots

December 1, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: Pennsylvania election officials mailed out 1.8 million ballots but counted votes from more than 2.5 mailed ballots. 

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The statistic combines data from Pennsylvania’s June primary election, in which 1.8 million voters requested vote-by-mail ballots, and data from the general election, in which voters mailed back more than 2.6 million ballots that were counted. 

THE FACTS: In the weeks before the November 2020 election, more than 3 million Pennsylvania voters requested vote-by-mail ballots.

Data from Pennsylvania’s Department of State analyzed by the U.S. Election Project, an election data site maintained by University of Florida political scientist Michael McDonald, show 3,087,524 mail ballots requested and 2,629,672 mail ballots returned and counted.

But those figures were distorted at a legislative hearing in Gettysburg last week as President Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani tried to argue there was fraud in Pennsylvania’s election. 

Among Giuliani’s claims was that only 1,823,148 vote-by-mail ballots were sent to voters, and the fact that a much larger number of mailed ballots were counted in the election results suggested widespread irregularities. 

“Now this is the part that is a mystery,” Giuliani said during the hearing. “Mailed ballots sent out, 1,823,148. But when you go to the count of the final count of the vote, there were 2,589,242 mail-in-ballots. What happened? How do you account for the 700,000 mail in ballots that appeared from nowhere?”

But there is no mystery. There were not 700,000 mail-in-ballots that appeared from nowhere.

Giuliani mixed two different statistics in his claim. State data show the 1,823,148 figure is actually the number of voters who requested a vote-by-mail ballot in the state’s June primary-- not in the general election. 

Even though the error was pointed out on social media by journalists, the false claim has continued to spread on social media. 

Pennsylvania Republican state Senator Doug Mastriano shared a similar version of the claim on Twitter that also confused primary data and data from the general election. 

“Pennsylvania reports having mailed out 1,823,148 ballots, of which 1,462,302 were returned. Yet total mail-in votes number 2,589,242? From where did the extra 2,589,242 - 1,462,302 = 1,126,940 votes come?” read the text of an image Mastriano shared. In his tweet, he claimed the same data had been deleted from the Department of State’s dashboard.

Two of the numbers are the same figures cited by Giuliani. The 1,462,302 figure appears to capture the number of mailed ballots that were returned in the June primary at one point. The AP has reported that 1.5 million people voted by mail in the primary.

Mastriano did not return a request for comment from The Associated Press. His tweet was later shared by Trump. 

Pennsylvania’s state’s election results were certified on Nov. 24. 

Trump and his legal team have failed to get traction in court on their claims of fraud. A state Supreme Court decision Saturday threw out a legal challenge to the election and effort to stop certification of its results. 

That ruling followed a Friday legal defeat for Trump in the 3rd Circuit, in which Judge Stephanos Bibas, a Trump appointee, wrote, “Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so. Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here.”


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: