Photo of bagged ballots in California is not evidence of wrongdoing, contrary to claims

The Associated Press called California’s gubernatorial election for incumbent Governor Gavin Newsom on November 8, just minutes after polls closed.

Newsom won by a wide margin over his Republican opponent, but recent posts on social media suggested his win was fraudulent.

“Look at all the ballots that haven’t been counted in California and this is just a polling station,” one tweet said. “Nevertheless, Gavin Newsom was declared governor minutes after the polls closed.”

An image in the tweet shows about a few dozen gray duffel bags on the ground behind several people standing around folding tables with white boxes.

“@gavinnewsom selected, not elected,” read the caption of an Instagram post that shared a screenshot of the tweet.

It’s been flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat hoaxes and misinformation on its news feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, owner of Facebook and Instagram.)

The original tweet claims the picture was taken on November 10th at the South El Monte Library in Los Angeles County.

But Mike Sanchez, a spokesman for the county’s registry office, told PolitiFact that the picture was not taken there.

The picture does not show a polling station; The photo was taken nearly four miles away at the county mail-in ballot center in the town of Industrie, Sanchez said. There all absentee ballots are processed and verified before being taken to the county’s central vote counting facility in the town of Downey.

The bags in the photo contained absentee ballots that were placed in mailboxes on election day and then collected by poll workers. After they’re processed and verified, they’ll be moved to Downey for counting, a process that’s ongoing during the campaigning phase, Sanchez said.

Sanchez noted that the county did not declare Newsom the winner; News organizations like The Associated Press made the call based on the county’s unofficial election results. Those results are scheduled to be confirmed Dec. 5 after all eligible votes have been tallied, Sanchez said.

The Associated Press, which called the Newsom race “minutes after California’s polling stations closed” on election night, calls the race as soon as it is “fully convinced that a race has been won – most simply defined as the moment when a trailing candidate has no way to win.”

On November 17, the State Department estimated that 1.7 million ballots remained unprocessed in California.

“It usually takes weeks for the counties to process and count all the ballots,” says the office’s website. “Election officials have about a month to complete their extensive census, audit and certification (known as official election) work.”

As of Nov. 17, after all 25,554 counties in California “partially reported” their results, Newsom had about 5.4 million votes, or 59%, while Republican Sen. Brian Dahle had about 3.8 million votes, or 41%.

Dahle conceded on November 9th.

Our verdict

The Instagram post claims the photo shows uncounted ballots in California at a polling station and suggests that this is evidence of fraud since Newsom was named governor shortly after polling stations closed.

There are several points wrong here.

The photo was taken at a county facility where poll workers processed and reviewed ballot-by-mail records. They were not counted because they had not yet been moved to the central location of the county for the counting of votes. This process usually takes weeks and is not proof of scam as this post suggests.

The Associated Press — not the state of California, which was still counting the ballots when we wrote this fact check — declared Newsom the winner after the polls closed. The Associated Press declares winners in races when it concludes that there is no way a trailing contestant can make a successful comeback and win the race.

California is expected to confirm its election results on December 5 after all eligible ballots have been counted.

The statement in the post contains a grain of truth but ignores critical facts that would create a different impression, which is why we give it a largely false rating.