Did 400,000 Votes ‘Disappear’ in California’s Recall Election?

No.

A number of viral social media posts show a segment of CNN’s coverage of California’s gubernatorial recall election returns, in which the “Yes” vote count drops from 2,225,915 votes to 1,874,206 votes and the overall estimated vote reported drops from 52 percent to 49 percent, all while the “No” vote count remains the same at 4,530,002. Some of the posts suggested the vote change was due to fraudulent activities of some kind.

This change was not due to fraud, but to a reporting error. As noted in past factchecks on similar election fraud claims, while the media often attempts to predict the outcome of elections based on statistical modeling and information they receive from exit polls and vote reporting from counties, the election results reported by the media are not official results—a drop of 351,709 does not reflect the real-world deletion of ballots as some might assume. 

CNN, along with many other news organizations, relies on Edison Research for its election return information. Edison Research’s Executive Vice President Rob Farbman told The Dispatch Fact Check that the vote count change as depicted on CNN “was a correction to a data entry error.” According to Farbman: “Edison relies on different sources including state feeds, county feeds, and reporters hired to collect the vote in-person at the county office. One vote count called in from a reporter stationed at the Santa Clara county office at 11:19 ET accidentally had the ‘total vote’ for the recall race in the ‘Yes’ column giving ‘Yes’ an extra 350,000 votes. This error was entered at 11:19 pm ET and corrected 2 minutes later at 11:21 pm ET when we deleted the ‘total vote’ in for ‘Yes’ and entered the correct ‘Yes’ vote.  The ‘vote drop’ for ‘Yes’ was a correction.” Farbman said that the error was in their system for only two minutes before it was caught by their quality checkers.

The “vote drop” can be seen in other news outlets’ coverage of the election as well: t?The same change in vote count can be seen on MSNBC’s The 11th Hour With Brian Williams. (You can see it take place at the 22 minute, 22 second mark.)

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