“Something like this just feeds into people who believe mail-in voting is fraudulent,” said the county’s elections board chair, Jim Shalleck, a Republican appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R). “It’s very unfortunate.”
Elections officials in the liberal suburb of 1 million were alerted Tuesday afternoon to the video, which was posted on YouTube by a user who says they took it off 4chan, an online message board often used by provocative trolls.
The clip shows a male election worker sorting through ballots; he briefly looks around the room before picking up a pen and leaning over the ballot. In bold text, the video suggests that the worker is committing election fraud.
“All this looks very, very suspicious,” the unnamed narrator says.
“It’s not Republicans or conservatives that do this sort of thing,” the narrator says later in the video, urging viewers to share the video “far and wide.”
An email sent to the address linked to the account that posted the video was not answered Wednesday evening. The Washington Post is not linking to the video because it was unable to confirm the poster’s identity or verify the claims.
Kevin Karpinski, counsel for Montgomery County’s elections board, told board members on Wednesday the allegation of misconduct is unfounded. Karpinski said he interviewed the canvass worker shown in the clip, spoke to other volunteers who were working at the time and reviewed every ballot that the worker had helped to sort.
“I find no evidence whatsoever, any sort of attempt of voter fraud,” he said.
In actuality, Karpinski said, what the clip captured was the canvass worker darkening an oval that had been filled in too lightly, to ensure that it would be picked up by the ballot scanners. Karpinski said that protocol has been in place for election workers since he started working for the elections board in 2003 and is designed to ensure that as many eligible ballots as possible are counted.
Canvass workers are told to ask a colleague or supervisor when they’re unsure whether an oval needs to be darkened but not if they think it’s clear that needs to be done, Karpinski said.
It was easier for canvassers to monitor one another in past election years when they were sitting side by side, Shalleck said. But canvass workers are sitting six feet apart this year as a coronavirus precaution, making it more tedious for them to call a colleague over.
“I do want to emphasize that he did nothing wrong,” Karpinski said, referring to the canvass worker in the video. “He followed the appropriate policies and protocols.”
Shalleck, who was the 2014 Republican candidate for Montgomery County executive, said the video sent officials into a frenzy on Tuesday. Ensuring the integrity of the election process is critical, Shalleck said, in part because President Trump has made a barrage of false claims regarding voter fraud.
“We had a very terrible day, dealing with this,” Shalleck said, adding that board members had received emails about the video from voters in places as far away as California and Colorado.
“What someone’s motive is we don’t know, but it’s a local issue, and yet, it’s all over Facebook and gone viral,” Shalleck said. “We’re certainly concerned.”
YouTube and Facebook executives have announced efforts to counter misinformation relating to the election, but false and misleading posts have continued to flourish on their platforms. A study by Media Matters found that of 100 viral videos on mail-in voting posted this year, 47 percent were from right-leaning channels.
The Plum Gar Community Recreation Center is the only site in Montgomery where mailed ballots are being scanned. The county will start counting ballots Thursday, but these counts will remain secret until after polls close on Election Day.
So far, Montgomery voters have requested more than 370,000 mail-in ballots and returned about 180,000. There are 740,000 registered voters in the county.
To ensure further transparency, board members agreed on Wednesday to have an observer in the canvassing room at all times and to instruct all canvass workers to ask the observer or another colleague to monitor them when they need to darken an oval.
Officials will also be on the lookout for videos spreading misinformation about Montgomery’s election process, Shalleck said. He welcomed voters to watch the live stream of the canvass on the county’s website.