Fact check: DHS did not announce a sting operation using watermarks on ballots to root out fraud

Posts shared on social media claim that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has marked all authentic election ballots with “non-radioactive isotope watermarks” in order to be able to identify fraudulent replica ballots. Posted amid extended vote counts in key battleground states, this claim is false. States themselves, rather than federal agencies, are responsible for designing, producing, and auditing their ballots, not the DHS.

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The claim appears to have begun spreading the day after the Nov. 3 general election with a tweet (here) stating the following: “Consider: Dept of Homeland Security controlled ‘official ballots’ production. Dems print extras, not knowing about non-radioactive isotope watermarks on ‘official ballots’. Military sting operation. After weeding out all counterfeit ballots, Trump landslide confirmed.” At the time of this article’s publication, the tweet had received more than 8,200 retweets and 17,300 likes.

A later iteration of the claim appeared on the video platform Rumble, where a user uploaded a video on Nov. 4 called “Pres Trump Just Trapped All the Elites Into Committing Voter Fraud: Trump Landslide Incoming!” ( here ). The user, who identifies himself as Daniel Lee, credits the tweet cited above with the alleged revelation and claims to show a Nov. 4 letter from DHS itself confirming an “election audit sting.”

The alleged DHS press release, which was not distributed by any DHS communications channels, is shown in an article published here and states that “in a stunning turn of events, the Department of Homeland Security announced that there was a federal government sting planned and executed for this election… With confusion in the election results as it is, the amount of fraud identifiers in this sting is staggering.”

The purported DHS statement says that 80% of the more than 14 million ballots it has reviewed “failed ballot integrity checks” and that the “highest frequency of these non-marked ballots is coming from Arizona and Michigan, where over 48% did not contain this watermark. These votes are overwhelmingly supportive of Democratic candidate Joseph Biden.”

On Nov. 6, 2020, Chris Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the federal agency responsible for protecting the nation’s critical infrastructure from cyber threats ( ), debunked the inauthentic DHS letter on Twitter (here) .

In what he called a “Rumor Control Update,” Krebs said, “Don’t fall for these efforts to confuse & undermine confidence in the election!” before differentiating between “Reality” and “Rumor.” He explained that social media posts claiming that “DHS or CISA printed paper ballots with security measures and is auditing results as a countermeasure against ballot counterfeiting” were baseless. In reality, he wrote, “The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) do not design or audit ballots, which are processes managed by state and local election officials.”

For more information on how states manage their voting processes, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission provides guidelines on ballot building here as well as ballot preparation, printing, and pre-election testing here .


False. Neither the DHS nor the CISA design or audit election ballots. This is the responsibility of each state. The DHS has not announced or conducted a sting operation using watermarks on ballots to deter election interference.

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