It is absolutely true that the best way for the decline in confidence in elections to be combated is for trusted voices to tell the truth about the election. And then Carlson, a trusted voice to millions on the political right, proceeded to dump in their laps an array of unproven, irrelevant or obviously incorrect claims about the presidential election.
It’s obviously the case that there’s a robust marketplace for this stuff. If Donald Trump were as adept at selling gilded Manhattan apartments as he is false claims about the 2020 election, he’d be the wealthiest real estate agent in human history. He’s deeply invested in the narrative that rampant fraud occurred for reasons of personal pride and that translates into a base of supporters eager for information bolstering his claims that then translates into demand for people like Carlson who have proven track records of prioritizing sensationalism over accuracy. (See here.) (And here.) (And here.) (And here.) (Among others.) So we get a revolving suite of claims that quickly fall apart before the whole enterprise moves to another state.
These days, that’s Georgia, the focus of Carlson’s efforts Wednesday. He began with a cinematic vignette: a warehouse holding the absentee ballots cast in Fulton County, a heavily Democratic region of the state. One night in May, right when the guards had stepped away, an alarm goes off. The guards return to find the door open — and the mystery begins.
You can go ahead and scoot back from the edge of your seat. The drama here is all in Carlson’s dishonest telling. No area related to ballots was disturbed. The motion detector that triggered the alarm was in an upstairs office. The door wasn’t found open but it was unlocked, a function of an employee who had no key leaving the building after being locked in while using the restroom. Not very Hollywood-y, sure, but reality often isn’t.
Stephen Fowler, the public radio reporter who covered the warehouse incident — and whose photo Carlson’s show used without credit — was obviously exasperated when I called him Thursday morning to talk about the allegations made during the earlier night’s program. Fowler’s been doing yeoman’s work for, what, eight months now? Pushing back on the constant stream of conspiracy theories that have been presented since the moment the state announced Trump had lost. Before that, even.
His week has been particularly harried given a pair of new allegations focused on the state, both of which made it uncritically into Carlson’s show.
The first is an analysis of Fulton County absentee ballots conducted by a group called Voter GA, which itself is run by a man named Garland Favorito. (Earlier in the day Wednesday, Favorito joined former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell for a podcast discussion of the election, if you’re the type to judge people based on the company they keep.) That analysis included several allegations of inconsistencies that were presented as “massive errors and provable fraud.”
One claim was that absentee ballots had been scanned more than once, a claim Carlson accompanied by footage of a poll worker running a set of ballots through a scanner more than once on security video. It’s very useful here to point out this analysis itself undercuts Carlson’s extremely vague hints about that warehouse: Voter GA had access to scanned images of all of the ballots provided by the county. (You can download them yourself, if you wish, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.) But it’s also useful to point out that this doesn’t actually mean much.
For one thing, all of the ballots in Georgia were rescanned after the election. If these ballots were scanned twice and erroneously included in the vote total — an important and unproven addendum — they would then need to have been counted twice in the hand recount that was ordered by the secretary of state. And they would need to have been counted twice in the second machine count of the results in December. But all three of those counts (original, hand, machine) resulted in essentially the same number of ballots cast in Fulton County, as Fowler points out.
Of course, it’s also alleged that forged ballots were included in the mix. That’s why Carlson highlighted illicit photos taken by a poll worker which he alleged showed a stack of absentee ballots that hadn’t been folded. Here’s Donald Trump’s new spokeswoman, election-fraud conspiracy-theorist Liz Harrington, sharing the images.
If you can identify whether those ballots were or were not folded, much less if they look photocopied, your eyesight is more robust than my own. We have only the word of Carlson’s “whistleblower” here. There is a reason, by the way, that ballots might not have been folded for submission. In instances where a ballot is damaged in transit — ripped, stained, folded too much — poll workers occasionally duplicated the ballot by hand for it to be properly processed. The state also duplicates ballots sent in from members of the military or people living overseas.
The other new allegation Carlson covered was a report from the right-wing blog Federalist, claiming 35,000 votes were cast illegally in the state. Trump hyped that report in a Fox News interview over the weekend, hailing it as “far more, numerous times more than we need to win that state.” But the allegation isn’t that someone did something like submit a ballot in the name of a dead person or anything like that. It’s that 35,000 people cast ballots from Georgia counties where they used to live instead of the ones where they currently lived. If true — again, this is unproven third-party analysis — it’s illegal in the sense that going 67 in a 65 is illegal, not in the sense that you’re driving a stolen car. Nor is it clear how those people voted. But it serves the broad, blended narrative of “Georgia allowed illegal ballots to be cast” that serves the broader “Trump wuz robbed” effort.
When Trump first started pointing to the Voter GA claims, Fowler put together a Twitter thread compiling articles debunking them. He called Trump’s claims “harmful at worst and woefully misinformed at best.” Then, a few hours later, there was Carlson using them to light fires about alleged fraud.
“That is illegal. It’s not a small thing,” Carlson said of those 35,000 votes. “Violating election law is something we should care about.”
That was temperate compared to his assertions about seven apparently improperly filled-out tallies identified by Voter GA, documents that again had no obvious effect on anything related to the vote totals.
“How is that not flat-out criminal fraud?” Carlson asserted. “We’d love to know because it certainly sounds like flat-out criminal fraud.”
Just an objective journalist following the facts where they go. Just a guy seeking to build confidence in the election by telling the truth about what happened.
This article originally incorrectly referred to an additional machine recount.