- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 26, 2020

Sensational photos purportedly showing a dumpster full of discarded mail-in voting ballots spread fast on the internet Friday despite efforts by the private and public sector to set the record straight.

Thousands of accounts shared the photos on Twitter before the social media company intervened, and a website promoted in the past by President Trump ran a report about them widely circulated as well.

While the images are legitimate and an official explanation soon emerged, speculation quickly swelled amid the integrity of the mail-in voting process coming under attack before Election Day this fall.

Elijah Schaffer, a host and reporter for The Blaze television network founded by conservative commentator Glenn Beck, was among the prominent verified Twitter users to share the images earlier Friday.

“SHOCKING: 1,000+ mail-in-ballots found in a dumpster in California,” he wrote in a tweet that has since been removed from Twitter. “These are original photos sent to me. Big if true.”

The Gateway Pundit, a site with a history of promoting baseless conspiracy theories and bogus claims yet repeatedly promoted by the president, reported that it also received the photos from a source.

“EXCLUSIVE: California Man Finds THOUSANDS of What Appear to be Unopened Ballots in Garbage Dumpster — Workers Quickly Try to Cover Them Up — We are Working to Verify,” The Gateway Pundit reported.

Mr. Schaffer and The Gateway Pundit founder Jim Hoft each stated they received the images from a source and that they allegedly showed a landfill in Petaluma, California, in Sonoma County.

Sonoma County subsequently tried to explain the origin of the images but reached comparatively fewerTwitter users compared to several widely-followed conservative social media accounts that shared them.

“Help us stop a false report,” Sonoma County tweeted. “Someone posted pictures on the web showing empty Vote-by-Mail envelopes from Sonoma County in recycling bins. The pictures are of old empty envelopes from the November 2018 election that were disposed of as allowed by law.”

Sonoma County’s tweet was shared, or retweeted, less than 700 times within 24 hours of being posted; Mr. Schaffer’s was retweeted at least 5,000 times it was taken down from Twitter; another tweet by verified user that includes a link to The Gateway Pundit article was retweeted more than 1,000 times as of Saturday and remains online, meanwhile.

Twitter said Mr. Schaffer’s tweet violated its rules but did not immediately respond to a message requesting further details.

The Gateway Pundit article was updated multiple times after it was initially published. It currently notes that ballots are not sent to registered voters in California until the week of Oct. 5.

Millions of Americans are set to vote by mail because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Election officials and experts attest the process is safe and secure, and Mr. Trump alleges it is ripe for abuse.

Fifty-two percent of voters surveyed this month said they support totally shutting down social media platforms the week of the election, according to polling released Friday.

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