Facts Matter: Photo of empty envelopes used in false claim that ballots were trashed

  • A photo circulating on social media purporting to show 2020 mail-in ballots in the trash is misleading. The photo depicts legally disposed of ballot envelopes from the 2018 election, not 2020 ballots.

    A photo circulating on social media purporting to show 2020 mail-in ballots in the trash is misleading. The photo depicts legally disposed of ballot envelopes from the 2018 election, not 2020 ballots. AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File

Updated 10/3/2020 5:44 PM

Questions about the legitimacy of mail-in voting are ramping up on social media as the Nov. 3 general election approaches. However, a recent photo of envelopes in the trash was falsely used to further a claim.

"1,000+ mail in ballots found in a dumpster in California," was recently posted on Facebook along with the photo of envelopes. "They were allegedly discovered in a Republic Services of Sonoma County central landfill. Do you trust mail in voting?"


The photo is real, but the claim is false, according to PolitiFact.com. The image shows empty envelopes from the 2018 election which were discarded legally.

A Twitter post from Sonoma County officials disputed the claim.

"Help us stop a false report," the Twitter post read. "Someone posted pictures on the web showing empty Vote-by-Mail envelopes from Sonoma County in recycling bins. The pictures are of old empty envelopes from the November 2018 election that were disposed of as allowed by law."

No sheriff endorsements

The first presidential debate between Republican incumbent Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden on Tuesday included a frenetic exchange of fact and fiction. As news outlets and social media users rushed to fact check the candidates, one statement was disputed by the subject of that claim.

While on the issues of law and order, the president said he was endorsed by the sheriff of Portland.

"Portland, the sheriff just came out today and he said, 'I support President Trump,'" Trump said.

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It's unclear if Trump was referring to Portland, Oregon, a city that has experienced recent racial tension and violent protests, according to Snopes.com. The Portland Police Bureau, which doesn't have a sheriff, has jurisdiction over the city. But the sheriff of Multnomah County, in which Portland is the county seat, disputed Trump's claim.

"In tonight's presidential debate the president said the 'Portland sheriff' supports him. As the Multnomah County sheriff I have never supported Donald Trump and will never support him," Sheriff Mike Reese wrote on Twitter as the debate was happening.

A spokesman for Pat Garrett, sheriff of Washington County, on the west side of Portland, said the office is nonpartisan, <URL destination="https://www.kgw.com/article/news/politics/elections/debate-trump-claims-portland-sheriff-endorses-him/283-ba47d284-705b-4fb3-9360-3ec81c06fb97">according to Oregon news station KGW8.

</URL>"Sheriff Garrett has not endorsed President Trump and does not intend on making any national endorsement," the spokesman said in a statement.


A spokesman for Craig Roberts, sheriff of Clackamas County, which includes parts of southern Portland, told KGW8, "Sheriff Roberts has not made any national endorsement."

And there is also no evidence the sheriff of Cumberland County, which includes part of Portland, Maine, publicly endorsed Trump, Snopes said.

Biden had facts wrong

Biden also gave some misinformation in the debate.

"There was a peaceful protest in front of the White House," Biden said. "What did (Trump) do? He came out of his bunker, had the military do tear gas."

Chemical irritants were used to disperse the crowd in Lafayette Square outside the White House when Trump walked to St. John's Episcopal Church for a photo opportunity, but it was done by local law enforcement, not the military, <URL destination="https://apnews.com/article/election-2020-college-football-ap-fact-check-joe-biden-virus-outbreak-65e9180ca829616cff33dd6c1398170b">according to The Associated Press.

</URL>Also, there was no evidence Trump was in a White House bunker while the protests were happening on June 1, the AP said. A few days before that the president had been rushed to a bunker when hundreds of protesters outside the White House were throwing rocks and threatening the police barricades.

Biden also said during the debate that Trump will be the "first (president) in American history" to lose jobs during his term.

The first actually was Herbert Hoover.

Ginsburg didn't tweet

Following the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, false information about the U.S. Supreme Court justice began showing up on social media.

Screenshots of a Twitter post being shared on the internet, with the false claim that it was written by Ginsburg shortly before she died on Sept. 18, attempted to make it appear the associate justice had knowledge of wrongdoing by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

That post couldn't have come from Ginsburg, according to FactCheck.org. She didn't have a personal Twitter account.

The various images of the fake tweet also were not consistent. The screenshots displayed various times and dates and appeared to be coming from different Twitter accounts.

• Bob Oswald is a veteran Chicago-area journalist and former news editor of the Elgin Courier-News. Contact him at boboswald33@gmail.com.

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