FACT CHECK: Viral Image Falsely Claims To Show Unopened 2020 Mail-In Ballots In A California Dumpster

Elias Atienza | Senior Reporter

An image shared on Facebook more than 1,400 times purportedly shows unopened mail-in ballots for the upcoming November election in a San Francisco dumpster.

Verdict: False

The pictured materials are empty envelopes from the 2018 election, not unopened vote-by-mail ballots for the upcoming election, according to the County of Sonoma. California counties will send mail-in ballots for active registered Californian voters that aren’t military or overseas no later than Oct. 5.

Fact Check: 

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom in May signed an executive order ensuring every active, registered voter in California will receive a vote-by-mail ballot for the Nov. 3 election, CBS News reported. An image on Facebook claims to show thousands of such unopened mail-in ballots in a dumpster in San Francisco.

“A California man just found thousands of mailed unopened ballots in a dumpster in san francisco and we wonder why Pelosi never loses,” text accompanying the image reads. (RELATED: Viral Image Claims A Person Who Receives 4 Ballot Applications Can Vote 4 Times)

But the image is actually from Sonoma County, not San Francisco. The photo doesn’t show unopened vote-by-mail ballots, but rather discarded, empty envelopes from the 2018 election, according to a Sept. 25 tweet from the county’s verified Twitter account.

“Help us stop a false report,” the County of Sonoma’s tweet reads. “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.”

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported Sept. 25 that Deva Marie Proto, the clerk-recorder-assessor-registrar of voters for Sonoma County, said the county will not send out mail ballots for the upcoming election for another nine days. The California Secretary of State website states that active registered voters living domestically will be mailed a ballot “no later than 29 days prior to Election Day,” or by Oct. 5. California military and overseas voters will be mailed their ballots 45 days before the election, according to the California Secretary of State website.

The claim that the image shows 2020 mail ballots appears to have started circulating widely Thursday after a tweet from Elijah Schaffer, a host for TheBlaze TV, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported. Twitter later removed Schaffer’s tweet for violating the platform’s rules.

The Election Integrity Partnership, a coalition of research entities including the Stanford Internet Observatory and the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public, also addressed the image being shared on Sept. 25.

“Just after midnight, a series of tweets and blog posts went viral claiming to show discarded ballots in a Petaluma, California dumpster,” the Election Integrity Partnership tweeted. “These claims are not true. The image is of empty envelopes from 2018 that were legally discarded.”

The Election Integrity Partnership warned social media users that “these are being used to mislead people about the integrity of the election” and recommended “caution when sharing images, especially images of uncertain provenance.”

Elias Atienza

Senior Reporter
Follow Elias on Twitter Have a fact check suggestion? Send ideas to [email protected].