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US: FACT FOCUS: Claim of 12K ‘found’ ballots in NJ is misleading

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A statement from the New Jersey state Senate president following his election defeat has generated confusion online in recent days after it vaguely asserted that thousands of ballots had been “found.”

FILE - Senate President Steve Sweeney winks at someone before the start of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy's budget address in Trenton, N.J., Feb. 25, 2020. A statement issued Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, from Sweeney following his election defeat has generated confusion online in recent days after it vaguely asserted that thousands of ballots had been “found.” (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File) © Provided by Associated Press FILE - Senate President Steve Sweeney winks at someone before the start of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy's budget address in Trenton, N.J., Feb. 25, 2020. A statement issued Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, from Sweeney following his election defeat has generated confusion online in recent days after it vaguely asserted that thousands of ballots had been “found.” (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Democrat Steve Sweeney did not concede the race to newcomer Ed Durr. Instead, he issued a statement Thursday stating he was waiting for all the votes to be counted and made reference to “12,000 ballots” that had been “recently found in one county.”

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That statement was published by news outlets and the notion that thousands of ballots were “found” was later amplified on social media and in headlines by conservative websites. Some social media posts implied that the ballots could affect the outcome in Sweeney’s race, or that Democrats were trying to “steal” the legislative seat.

In reality, the ballots in question were not in Sweeney’s district and they were not unexpectedly discovered. Here’s a look at the facts.

CLAIM: There were 12,000 ballots that were “recently found” in one New Jersey county.

THE FACTS: There is no evidence to suggest that the 12,000 ballots were unexpected or unaccounted for, as some have suggested.

Sweeney’s statement was sent to media outlets Thursday, the same day that The Associated Press called the race for Durr.

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“The results from Tuesday’s election continue to come in, for instance there were 12,000 ballots recently found in one county,” the statement said. “While I am currently trailing in the race, we want to make sure every vote is counted. Our voters deserve that, and we will wait for the final results.”

In the days following, posts on social media and conservative websites homed in on that vague detail, some implying the votes were related to Sweeney’s race. And claims questioning if the “found” ballots would affect the results continue to circulate.

“EYES ON NEW JERSEY. They’re trying to steal Ed Durrs seat! Where are you @GOP @NJGOP? Thousands of ballots magically found?” stated one tweet circulating Tuesday.

But Richard McGrath, a spokesperson for Sweeney, told the AP that the statement referred to ballots in Camden County — which is not included in the state’s 3rd Legislative District, which Sweeney represents.

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And those ballots were mail-in ballots that were not a surprise discovery.

Camden County spokesman Dan Keashan said that on election night, officials from the county picked up mail-in ballots from 29 drop boxes located across the county.

Those collected ballots numbered about 12,000, Keashan said, and they were delivered to a warehouse late that night. They were counted the next day.

Asked for further comment on his statement, Sweeney’s office referred the AP to comments Sweeney provided to NJ.com Monday, in which he said that he did not mean to imply the votes were lost.

“I didn’t say they were found,” Sweeney said, erroneously. “I said 12,000 votes came in to Camden County. My point is: Votes are coming in. I don’t know how many are coming in. I won’t know until today. But votes were coming in every day. Could there be a large number of votes? Could there be no votes? The point is: Just let us count the votes. I’ve earned that.”

As of Tuesday — one week after Election Day — Sweeney still had not conceded defeat in the race.

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Fichera reported from Philadelphia; Catalini from New Jersey.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.

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