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Fact check: Massachusetts election officials have not destroyed ballots or committed election fraud

Social media users are sharing a post from Massachusetts Senate contender Dr Shiva Ayyadurai, which says Massachusetts destroyed over 1 million ballots in the U.S. Senate primary race that he lost and therefore committed election fraud. This claim is false: a spokesperson for the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts told Reuters that no ballots have been destroyed. Election law experts from MIT and Harvard Law School also said there is no legal obligation for the state to keep ballot images and therefore the allegation of fraud in these posts is not credible.

Reuters Fact Check. REUTERS

Dr Ayyadurai’s tweet (here) has been shared across social media (  here  ,  here  ). It reads, “BREAKING: Massachusetts Destroys Over 1 MILLION Ballots in US SENATE PRIMARY RACE committing #ElectionFraud. MA Elections Attorney confirms to #Shiva4Senate ballot images – used for counting votes – that MUST be saved by FEDERAL LAW for 22 months are nowhere to be found!”

The section of the law to which Ayyadurai is likely to have been referring in his social media posts is 52 U.S.C Section 20701, which requires that ballots for federal elections be retained for a minimum of 22 months (here).

On Sept. 1, Ayyadurai lost the Massachusetts U.S. Senate Republican Primary election to Kevin O’Connor, who took 59.7% of the votes to Ayyadurai’s 39.4% (here).  O’Connor will face Democratic candidate U.S. Senator Ed Markey in the Senate election on Nov. 3 (here). Ayyadurai will run as a write-in candidate (shiva4senate.com/).

Election fraud has been a flash point of this year’s U.S. Presidential election as President Trump and some Republican allies have repeatedly asserted without citing evidence that a surge in mail-in voting and the COVID-19 pandemic will lead to massive fraud in the election on Nov. 3 (here).

Debra O’Malley, a spokesperson for the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts William Galvin, told Reuters via email that election officials in Massachusetts have not destroyed any ballots: “Ballots are sealed and stored in each local election official’s vault until that retention period has expired. Ballots cannot be unsealed except in the cast of a recount or court order, and election officials are prohibited by law from allowing any person to examine those ballots.”

Ayyadurai’s post also refers to “ballot images” having disappeared. Ballot images are digital copies of ballots captured by modern scanners used in elections in the process of tabulation.

O’Malley told Reuters that images were not taken of ballots in Massachusetts “because our state laws do not allow the examination of ballots after they have been sealed on Election Night, we have instructed our tabulator vendors to disable the functionality which allows some tabulators to capture and store ballot images. As such, there are no ballot images to provide.”

Charles Stewart, Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor of Political Science at MIT who specializes in elections (here), said that under Massachusetts law, ballot images are not saved. He said there is no legal obligation for the state to save ballot images and therefore there is no fraud in this case: “The law in question requires the preservation of ballots, and the state has done that.  If there is a dispute about the election, it is the physical paper ballots that will be examined.”

Nicholas Stephanopoulos, professor of law at Harvard Law School specializing in election law (here), also told Reuters this is not a case of fraud, “There isn't a credible allegation of fraud here, there's just some confusion by a candidate about records-keeping requirements.”

Ayyadurai did not respond to Reuters request for comment as of this article’s publication.

VERDICT

False. Massachusetts election officials have not destroyed any ballots. Professors specialising in election law from MIT and Harvard Law said the state is not legally obliged to save ballot images, meaning there is no fraud in this case.

This article was produced by the Reuters Fact Check team. Read more about our fact-checking work  here  .

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