Gaps in 2K poll mule declare in Georgia, different states

A film debuting in over 270 theaters across the United States this week uses flawed analysis of cellphone location data and surveillance footage of ballot boxes to cast doubt on the results of the 2020 presidential election, nearly 18 months after it ended.

The film, dubbed 2000 Mules, which was hailed by former President Donald Trump as exposing “grand election fraud,” paints an ominous picture that suggests pro-democracy “mules” were allegedly being paid to illegally cast ballots in Arizona, Georgia to collect and deliver. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

But that’s based on flawed assumptions, anonymous accounts, and improper analysis of cellphone location data that experts say isn’t accurate enough to confirm someone dropped a ballot into a Dropbox.

Produced by conservative filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, the film uses research by the Texas-based nonprofit organization True the Vote, which has lobbied states for months to use its findings to change voting 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 mailboxes in key swing states ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

THE FACTS: True the Vote has not proven this. The finding is based on false assumptions about the accuracy of cell phone tracking data and the reasons why someone might cast multiple ballots, experts say.

“Ballot harvesting” is a derogatory term for handing out completed ballots to anyone other than yourself. The practice is legal in several states, but largely illegal in the states True the Vote focuses on, with some exceptions for family members, household members and people with disabilities.

True the Vote has said it found about 2,000 poll collectors by using $2 million worth of anonymized geolocation data from cellphones — the “pings” that track a person’s location based on app activity — in various swing counties bought in five states. Then, by drawing a virtual boundary around a county’s ballot box and various unnamed nonprofits, it identified cellphones that repeatedly came near both ahead of the 2020 election.

If a cell phone went near a drop box more than 10 times and to a nonprofit more than five times, True the Vote assumed its owner was a “mule” — his name for someone involved in an illegal program was involved in collecting ballots in league with a non-profit organization.

The group’s claims about a paid ballot collection program are only supported in the film by an unidentified whistleblower, said to be from San Luis, Arizona, who said she saw people picking up what she “assumed” it was were payments for ballot collection. The film contains no references to such payments in other states in 2020.

Also, experts say cellphone location data, even in its most advanced form, can only reliably track a smartphone within a few feet — not close enough to know if someone actually cast a ballot or just walked or drove nearby.

“You could use cellular evidence to say that this person was in that area, but to say they were at the ballot box is going too far,” said Aaron Striegel, a professor of computer science and engineering at the university of Notre-Dame. “There’s always a pretty healthy insecurity associated with that.”

Additionally, ballot boxes are often deliberately placed in busy areas like university campuses, libraries, government buildings and apartment complexes — increasing the likelihood of innocent citizens being caught in the group’s dragnet, Striegel said.

Likewise, there are many legitimate reasons why someone would visit both a nonprofit office and one of these busy areas. Delivery drivers, postal workers, taxi drivers, poll workers and elected officials all have legitimate reasons for crossing paths with numerous mailboxes or non-profit organizations on any given day.

True the Vote has said it filtered out people whose “patterns of life” included visiting nonprofits and drop box locations before the election season. But this strategy would not 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 have recently changed.

In some states, in an attempt to back up its claims, True the Vote also highlighted dropbox surveillance footage showing voters inserting multiple ballots into the boxes. However, it could not be determined whether these voters were the same people as those whose mobile phones were anonymously tracked.

Video of a voter dropping off a stack of ballots at a drop-off box is not in itself evidence of wrongdoing, as most states have legal exceptions that allow people to cast 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 he legally dropped six ballots in a local mailbox in 2020 — one for himself, his wife and their four adult children. And in Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office examined one of the surveillance videos distributed by True the Vote and said it found the man cast ballots for himself and his family.

CLAIM: In Philadelphia alone, True the Vote identified 1,155 “mules” who illegally collected and cast ballots for money.

THE FACTS: No, it didn’t. The group has presented no evidence of any paid poll collection program in Philadelphia. And True the Vote hasn’t obtained surveillance footage of dropboxes in Philadelphia, so the group based that claim solely on cellphone location data, its researcher Gregg Phillips said in a March testimony before Pennsylvania state senators.

Pennsylvania State Senator Sharif Street, who was present for the group’s testimony in March, told the AP he’s confident he’ll be counted among several of the group’s 1,155 anonymous “mules,” although he doesn’t put anything in a mailbox have this period.

Street said he bases his assessment on the fact that he carries a mobile phone, a cellular-connected watch, a cellular-connected tablet and a mobile hotspot — four devices whose locations can be tracked by private companies. He also said he usually travels with a staff member who carries two devices, bringing his total to six.

During the 2020 election season, Street said he brought these devices with him on trips to nonprofit offices and to drop box rallies. He also drove past a drop box up to seven or eight times a day as he commuted between his two political offices.

“I didn’t fill out any ballots, but over time I’ve probably caused literally hundreds and hundreds of their unique visits despite being a single actor in a single vehicle moving back and forth in my normal course of business. ‘ said Street.

City Electoral Commission spokesman Nick Custodio said the allegations are consistent with others that were 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 allegations of fraud, all of which were quickly and decisively dismissed by both state and federal courts,” Custodio said.

ALLEGATION: Alleged ballot collectors were captured on surveillance video wearing gloves because they did not want to leave their fingerprints on the ballots.

THE FACTS: This is pure speculation. It ignores far more likely reasons for wearing gloves in Fall Winter 2020 – cold weather or COVID-19.

The True the Vote researcher claimed in the film that Georgia voters began wearing gloves to prevent their fingerprints from touching ballot envelopes after two women in Yuma, Arizona, were arrested on December 23, 2020 for alleged ballot picking at the primaries in that state had been indicted. But the Arizona indictment made no mention of fingerprints.

Voting in Georgia’s January 5, 2021 Senate runoff took place during some of the coldest weeks of the year in the state, as COVID-19 surged.

Indeed, in 2020, the AP documented multiple examples of COVID-cautious voters wearing latex gloves and other personal protective equipment to vote.

In a similarly speculative allegation, the film claims its supposed “mules” photographed ballots before dropping them into drop boxes to get paid. But across the US, voters often take photos of their ballot envelopes before handing them in.

CLAIM: Without this ballot collection program, former President Donald Trump would have had enough votes to win the 2020 election.

THE FACTS: This alleged scheme has not been proven, nor do these researchers have any way of knowing whether any ballots that were collected contained votes for Trump or for Biden.

According to Derek Muller, a law professor at the University of Iowa, there is no evidence that a massive ballot collection program dumped a large amount of votes for a candidate in dropboxes, and if there were any, it would likely be caught quickly.

“Once you get just a few people involved, people start revealing the scheme because it unravels pretty quickly,” he said.

Mail ballots are also verified by signature and tracked closely, often with an option for voters themselves to see where their ballot is at any given time. According to Barry Burden, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and director of the Elections Research Project, this process protects against anyone attempting to illegally cast additional ballots.

“In this system, it seems impossible for a nefarious actor to throw away many ballots that were never requested by voters and never issued by election officials,” Burden said.