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:
CLAIM: Reports of a gas leak at a Kentucky polling place were an election-rigging tactic to gain more votes for Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear.
THE FACTS: Louisville Gas & Electric confirmed there was a legitimate report of a gas leak at a polling place at Highland Baptist Church in Jefferson County on Tuesday morning. The leak caused the polls there to close for 30 minutes, so a judge ruled that it should stay open another half-hour that evening to reach a statutorily required 12-hour voting window. Between this location and another where voting was extended, only one more voter cast a ballot after 6 p.m., according to the county clerk’s office. But social media users are questioning the incident, insinuating it was a ruse to give Beshear the votes he needed to win reelection. “Looks a lot like 100k ballots with the Governor race only filled out showed up tonight after the ‘gas leak,’” reads one post on X, formerly known as Twitter. But officials tamped down on the conspiracy theories. «This was a legitimate instance of a gas leak so any claims otherwise, we just think are patently absurd,” said Erran Huber, a spokesperson for the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office. Chris Whelan, a spokesperson for Louisville Gas & Electric, confirmed gas was detected emitting from a stove in the church, but not at hazardous levels. The stove was turned off and it dissipated. A Jefferson Circuit Court judge then extended voting at the church until 6:30 p.m., instead of the scheduled 6 p.m. deadline. The judge ordered the same extension at a polling place at an elementary school, which had also been closed for half an hour Tuesday morning, while police were pursuing a suspect, according to court documents. Huber said that only one voter came to cast a ballot between 6 and 6:30 p.m. at either of the two polling places. Despite suggestions that voters in Kentucky’s most populous county were suspiciously only casting ballots in the gubernatorial contest, state results show only around 4,000 more voters in that race than for attorney general or secretary of state. The Democratic candidates got the majority of Jefferson County’s votes in those two contests, while they fell short in other Kentucky counties.
— Associated Press writers Ali Swenson in New York and Karena Phan in Los Angeles contributed this report.
CLAIM: Democrats cheated in Pennsylvania elections with voting machines that were rigged to flip votes.
THE FACTS: Social media users are misrepresenting an issue with machines in one county where there is no evidence of fraud. Instead, the machines’ maker acknowledged it made a clerical error, which resulted in devices in Northampton County printing out records that mixed up the results on two ballot measures. Despite the inaccurate printout, the voters’ actual choices were properly recorded, county officials said. The news was nevertheless wildly misconstrued online. “BREAKING: voting machines in Pennsylvania shut down after getting caught flipping votes,” reads one post on X, formerly Twitter. “Democrats run that state and will cheat in (asterisk)any(asterisk) way possible. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH – Get rid of these damn rigged machines!!” But the claims of cheating are baseless. Voters in Northampton County were asked to decide whether Pennsylvania Superior Court Judges Jack Panella, a Democrat, and Victor Stabile, a Republican, should each be retained for additional 10-year terms by marking “yes” or “no” for each candidate. Officials found that the “yes” or “no” votes for each judge appeared to have been switched on a printed summary shown to voters before they cast their ballot, Charles Dertinger, the Northampton County director of administration, said. For example, if a voter marked “yes” to retain Panella and “no” on Stabile, it was reflected on the summary as “no” on Panella and “yes” on Stabile. Voters’ actual choices were properly recorded by the machines’ backend system, meaning their votes could be tabulated accurately, Dertinger said. Elections Systems & Software, the Ohama, Nebraska-based company that provided the ExpressVoteXL machines, acknowledged it was at fault for the clerical error that caused the issue. Unofficial results released by the Pennsylvania Department of State show both Panella and Stabile retaining their seats, each with a margin of hundreds of thousands of votes. Only about 70,000 votes were cast in Northampton County for those races, the results show. An election integrity expert confirmed that the problem with the machines was not indicative of anything suspicious. “All the facts here are consistent with human error, not fraud,” Mark Lindeman, policy and strategy director at Verified Voting, wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “Anyone who actually wants to steal votes should try to do something that voters wouldn’t notice almost immediately.”
— Associated Press writers Melissa Goldin in New York and Michael Rubinkam in Pennsylvania contributed this report.
CLAIM: Ukraine’s president has surrendered and his country has fallen to Russia’s prolonged invasion.
THE FACTS: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy did not surrender as social media posts have claimed, and the country remains at war with Russia. Some online are nevertheless sharing a post claiming Ukraine is waving the white flag. “Zelensky has surrendered. Ukraine has fallen. Israel is next,” reads the viral post, which was written last Saturday and includes a black-and-white headshot of the Ukrainian president. The post offered no proof of the claim. But Ukraine did not abruptly surrender the day the viral social media post appeared and there hasn’t been any major development on either side to bring the fighting to a close. In recent days, Ukraine has said a Russian missile strike on the port city of Odesa hit a freighter, resulting in at least one death and multiple injuries. Ukraine has also claimed responsibility for a car bombing that killed a member of the Russia-backed authority in the illegally annexed Luhansk region. Zelenskyy, for his part, rejected claims that the war was entering a stalemate in an interview Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” On Monday, he also urged his countrymen to avoid political divides, saying they must concentrate all resources on fighting Russia.