On Friday, a viral claim that Pennsylvania had 21,000 dead on its electoral roll went online. In some versions of the rumor, these deceased had voted for Democratic presidential candidate Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Breitbart News, the right-wing publication, wrote an article about it. Others then cited it as evidence that Democrats were trying to steal the election.
Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's personal attorney, shared the article on Twitter and garnered 74,800 likes and shares. Diamond and Silk, the popular pro-Trump social media duo, posted the rumor on Facebook. And Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida, tweeted, "The dead voice appears to have been overwhelming for Joe Biden."
In total, Facebook posts about the rumor reached up to 11.3 million people, according to an analysis by the New York Times.
The problem: It was not true that 21,000 dead had voted in Pennsylvania.
The claim came from a lawsuit that was amended Thursday, an action that fueled the spread of the rumor on Friday. The Conservative Public Interest Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit against Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar in the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on October 15.
The lawsuit accuses Ms. Boockvar, a Democrat, of unjustifiably listing 21,206 Pennsylvanians allegedly deceased. The group applied for an injunction to prevent the dead from voting in the elections.
On October 20, the court's chief judge, John E. Jones III, who is holding the case, said he had doubts about the lawsuit. In a ruling he found that the Public Interest Legal Foundation asked the court to accept the findings that dead people were on the electoral roll, but said, “We cannot and will not take the plaintiff's word for it – in an election, at that every vote is important. We are not disenfranchised potentially eligible voters simply because of the allegations of a private foundation. "
Logan Churchwell, a legal foundation spokesman, said in an email on Friday that he had received evidence from the 2016 and 2018 elections to support his lawsuit. "Evidence and exhibits are sealed in the court," he said. "The lawsuit is not a rumor and the methodology is explained in the amended complaint filed yesterday."
A spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Attorney General said: “The court has found no shortcoming in the way Pennsylvania maintains its electoral roll. There is currently no evidence that a deceased person voted in the 2020 election. "
Ms. Boockvar's office did not respond to a request for comment.
Dead people whose identities were used to vote seem to be a popular topic for those spreading unsubstantiated allegations of election fraud. Claims that the dead voted in Michigan also surfaced on Twitter and other social media this week. However, the Times noted that Michigan voters were alive and voting legally, and that in some cases their birth dates were displayed inaccurately due to typographical errors.