Fact check: No, Wisconsin did not take a break from counting election results
Claim: Wisconsin officials 'took a break,' and when they returned, Biden was ahead by 100K
Misinformation about Wisconsin is flooding social media after yet another presidential race was decided in the key battleground state by a razor-thin margin.
Democratic nominee Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump by roughly 20,000 votes in Wisconsin, according to unofficial results reported by the Associated Press. Trump beat Hillary Clinton in a similarly close battle for the state four years ago, and Biden’s win will undoubtedly shape the outcome of the national race.
But an influx of absentee ballots cast in Wisconsin because of the coronavirus pandemic meant results took longer than usual to come in — allowing rumors and false information to fill in the gaps.
“Wisconsin took a break, and when they returned, Biden coincidentally came back ahead by 100k,” stated a tweet posted early Wednesday.
The tweet was cited in a viral Facebook post that claimed several key states with Democratic governors took a break from counting votes on election night.
And no part of it is accurate.
Election results in Wisconsin
Election officials in Wisconsin worked all night and into the early morning to count more than 3.2 million ballots, said Reid Magney, public information officer for the Wisconsin Elections Commission. That included an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots that workers could not start counting until Election Day, per state law.
By the morning of the election, more than 1.9 million people had returned absentee ballots.
Trump enjoyed a lead of more than 100,000 votes in Wisconsin early in the night, but the picture quickly changed after the city of Milwaukee’s central count finished processing mail-in votes around 3:30 a.m. Milwaukee and 38 other municipalities tally all of their absentee ballots at one location, instead of individual polling places.
"We are not finding ballots," Julietta Henry, director of elections for Milwaukee County, told PolitiFact. "Ballots are being counted."
It’s perfectly legal but has the practical effect of large numbers being added at the same time. Other municipalities in the state count absentee ballots at the precinct level, so they are tallied along with in-person votes.
The late boost for Biden from Milwaukee was expected, especially because mail-in ballots tend to skew toward Democrats and Milwaukee is a Democratic stronghold.
After Milwaukee reported those returns, Biden jumped ahead of Trump by about 8,000 votes. His lead widened to around 20,000 after Green Bay reported in-person and absentee results and Kenosha finished its tally.
So, two things: Biden was never up by 100,000 votes, and he will certainly not win Wisconsin by that much. It’s also ridiculous to suggest Wisconsin election officials “took a break” when they spent all night processing ballots. A delay in results does not mean the counting process stopped.
“I think that it’s insulting for local election officials to say yesterday’s election was anything but an incredible success that was the result of years of preparation and meticulously, carefully following the law,” Meagan Wolfe, the commission’s director, said in a news conference the morning after the election.
The Facebook poster did not respond to a request for comment.
Our ruling: FALSE
We rate this claim FALSE because it is not supported by our research. The Democratic nominee never held that great of a lead in Wisconsin, even when the Associated Press called the race. And some of the state’s election results arrived late due to an influx of mail-in ballots — not because officials “took a break.”
Our fact-check sources
- Wisconsin Elections Commission, Nov. 4, Absentee Ballot Report - November 3, 2020 General Election
- PBS NewsHour, Nov. 4, WATCH LIVE: Wisconsin Elections Commission gives vote counting update
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nov. 4, Biden declared winner in Wisconsin with 20,000 vote margin; Trump campaign vows request for recount
- Wisconsin Elections Commission, Central Count Absentee Ballot Municipalities, accessed Nov. 4, 2020.
- Green Bay Press-Gazette, Nov. 4, Green Bay boosts Biden's lead in Wisconsin as Brown County overall goes for Trump
- City of Green Bay, Nov. 3, Central Count Livestream 11-3-20
- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nov. 1, Milwaukee's Central Count facility will tabulate votes in three shifts on Election Day, and livestream the process
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