A movie that debuted in more than 270 theaters in the United States this week uses flawed analysis of cell phone location data and surveillance footage of polls to cast doubt on the results of the 2020 presidential election nearly 18 months after completion.
Praised by former President Donald Trump for exposing the “great voter fraud,” the film, called “2000 Mules,” paints an ominous picture suggesting that Democrat-aligned ballot “mules” were allegedly paid to illegally collect and deliver ballots. in Arizona, Ga. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
But that’s based on faulty assumptions, anonymous accounts and inadequate analysis of cellphone location data, which isn’t accurate enough to confirm someone dropped a ballot in a drop box, experts say.
The film was produced by conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza and uses research from the Texas-based nonprofit True the Vote, which has spent months lobbying states to use its findings to change election laws. . Neither responded to a request for comment.
Here’s a closer look at the facts.
CLAIM: At least 2,000 “mules” were paid to illegally collect ballots and deliver them to drop boxes in key states ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
THE FACTS: It is true that the Vote did not prove this. The finding is based on false assumptions about the accuracy of cell phone tracking data and the reasons someone might drop off multiple ballots, according to experts.
“Ballot collection” is a pejorative term for leaving completed ballots for people other than yourself. The practice is legal in several states, but largely illegal in the states True the Vote focused on, with a few exceptions for family, household members, and people with disabilities.
True the Vote has said it found some 2,000 ballot collectors by purchasing $2 million worth of anonymous cell phone geolocation data, the “pings” that track a person’s location based on app activity, in various swing counties in five states. Then, by drawing a virtual boundary around the polls of one county and several unidentified nonprofits, he identified cellphones repeatedly approached both ahead of the 2020 election.
If a cell phone was near a mailbox more than 10 times and a nonprofit organization more than five times from October 1 through Election Day, True the Vote assumed its owner was a “mule,” its name for someone involved in an illegal ballot harvesting scheme. in collusion with a non-profit organization.
The group’s claims of a paid ticket collection scheme are backed up in the film only by an unnamed whistleblower said to be from St. Louis, Arizona, who said she saw people collecting what she “assumed” were payments. for collecting tickets. The film contains no evidence of such payments in other states in 2020.
Furthermore, experts say that cell phone location data, even in its most advanced form, can only reliably track a smartphone to within a few meters, not close enough to tell if someone actually dropped off a ballot. or just walked or drove by.
“You could use cellular evidence to say this person was in that area, but to say he was in the polls, you’re grossly exaggerating,” said Aaron Striegel, a professor of computer science and engineering at Notre University. Lady. “There’s always a pretty healthy amount of uncertainty that comes with it.”
In addition, ballot boxes are often intentionally placed in crowded areas such as college campuses, libraries, government buildings and apartment complexes, increasing the likelihood that innocent citizens will be caught up in the group’s raid, Striegel said.
Similarly, there are many legitimate reasons someone might visit both a nonprofit office and one of those busy areas. Delivery drivers, postal workers, taxi drivers, poll workers, and elected officials all have legitimate reasons to come across numerous mailboxes or non-profit organizations on any given day.
True the Vote has said it screened out people whose “pattern of life” before election season included frequenting nonprofit locations and drop boxes. But that strategy wouldn’t filter out poll workers who spend more time at mailboxes during election season, taxi drivers whose daily routes don’t follow a pattern, or people whose routines recently changed.
In some states, in an attempt to bolster its claims, True the Vote also highlighted surveillance footage of drop boxes showing voters depositing multiple ballots into drop boxes. However, there was no way of knowing if those voters were the same people whose cell phones were tracked anonymously.
A video of a voter leaving a stack of ballots in a drop box is not in itself evidence of a crime, as most states have legal exceptions that allow people to drop off ballots on behalf of family and household members.
For example, Larry Campbell, a Michigan voter who did not appear in the film, told The Associated Press that he legally left six ballots in a local drop box in 2020, one each for himself, his wife and their four adult children. And in Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office investigated one of the surveillance videos circulated by True the Vote and said it found the man was handing out ballots for him and his family.
CLAIM: In Philadelphia alone, True the Vote identified 1,155 “mules” who illegally collected and delivered ballots for money.
THE FACTS: No, he did not do it. The group has offered no evidence of any sort of paid vote-collection scheme in Philadelphia. And True the Vote did not obtain surveillance footage of mailboxes in Philadelphia, so the group based this claim solely on cellphone location data, its investigator Gregg Phillips said in March in testimony before Pennsylvania state senators.
Pennsylvania State Senator Sharif Street, who was there for the group’s testimony in March, told the AP that he hoped he would be counted as several of the group’s 1,155 anonymous “mules,” though he didn’t drop anything in a mailbox. in that period of time.
Street said he based his assessment on the fact that he is carrying a cell phone, a cellular-enabled watch, a cellular-enabled tablet and a mobile hotspot — four devices whose locations can be tracked by private companies. He also said that he normally travels with a staff member who carries two devices, bringing his person total to six.
During the 2020 election season, Street said, he took those devices on trips to nonprofit offices and drop box rallies. He also went through a mailbox as many as seven or eight times a day when he was traveling between his two political offices.
“I didn’t fill out the tickets, but over time I literally probably represent hundreds and hundreds of their unique visits, even though I’m a single actor in a single vehicle moving back and forth in the normal course of action. my business. Calle said.
City election commission spokesman Nick Custodio said the allegations were consistent with others that had been debunked or refuted after the 2020 election.
“The Trump campaign and others filed an unprecedented litany of cases challenging the Philadelphia election with dubious and baseless fraud allegations, all of which were swiftly and resoundingly dismissed by state and federal courts,” Custodio said.
CLAIM: Some of the “mules” identified by True the Vote in Georgia were also geolocated to violent antifa riots in Atlanta in the summer of 2020, proving they were violent far-left actors.
THE FACTS: Leaving aside the fact that the film doesn’t prove that these people were collecting ballots, it can’t prove their political affiliations either.
Anonymous data tracked by True the Vote does not explain why someone might have been present at a protest demanding justice for black deaths at the hands of police officers. The people who were tracked there could have been violent rioters, but could also have been peaceful protesters, police or firefighters responding to protests, or business owners in the area.
CLAIM: The alleged ballot collectors were caught on surveillance video wearing gloves because they did not want to leave their fingerprints on the ballots.
THE FACTS: This is pure speculation. He ignores much more likely reasons to wear gloves in the fall and winter of 2020: cold weather or COVID-19.
The True the Vote investigator claimed in the film that voters in Georgia began wearing gloves to prevent their fingerprints from touching ballot envelopes after two women in Yuma, Arizona were charged on December 23, 2020 for alleged ballot harvesting in that state’s primary election. But the Arizona indictment did not mention anything about fingerprints.
Voting in the runoff election of the January 5, 2021 Senate election in Georgia occurred during some of the coldest weeks of the year in the state, and when COVID-19 was on the rise.
In fact, the AP in 2020 documented multiple examples of COVID-cautious voters wearing latex gloves and other personal protective equipment to vote.
In a similar speculative accusation, the film claims that his so-called “mules” took pictures of the ballots before throwing them into mailboxes for payment. But in the US, voters often take photos of their ballot envelopes before mailing them.
CLAIM: If not for this ballot collection scheme, former President Donald Trump would have had enough votes to win the 2020 election.
THE FACTS: This alleged scheme has not been tested, nor do these researchers have any way of knowing whether the ballots that were collected contained votes for Trump or Biden.
According to Derek Muller, a law professor at the University of Iowa, there is no evidence that a massive ballot harvesting scheme would dump a large number of votes for one candidate into drop boxes, and if there were, they would likely be detected quickly.
“Once you get a few people involved, people start revealing the scheme because it falls apart pretty quickly,” he said.
Absentee ballots are also signature-verified and closely tracked, often with an option for voters themselves to see where their ballot is at any given time. That process protects against anyone trying to illegally cast additional votes, according to Barry Burden, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and director of the Elections Research Project.
“It seems impossible in that system for a nefarious actor to get rid of a lot of ballots that were never requested by voters and never cast by election officials,” Burden said.
This is part of the AP’s effort to address widely shared disinformation, including working with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content circulating online. Learn more about AP fact-checking.