Alleged “ballot harvesting” in Minnesota, promoted by a right-wing activist group, is part of a coordinated disinformation campaign, researchers claim.
Project Veritas – known for video "sting" operations targeting liberal groups and the media – released videos Sunday purporting to show acts of illegal "ballot harvesting" and "cash for ballots" schemes going on in Minneapolis' Somali community ahead of the August primaries, and alleging links with 5th District Rep. Ilhan Omar.
The video contains insinuations and claims of voting irregularities without presenting any substantive evidence, as many Minnesota media outlets have pointed out. The New York Times noted on Monday that Project Veritas has a history of "releasing manipulated or selectively edited footage purporting to show illegal conduct."
Nonetheless, its release was quickly shared by the Trump family, and Minnesota conservative figures including GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, which comes amid a wider effort by President Donald Trump and some Republicans to call into question the legitimacy of absentee and mail-in voting ahead of the Nov. 3 elections.
The timing of the release of the video by Project Veritas is no coincidence, say researchers from, among others, Stanford University's Internet Observatory, which is part of the Election Integrity Partnership, a nonpartisan group that works to counter disinformation in real-time.
"As the video calls into question the integrity of the election using misleading or inaccurate information, we determined this video to be a form of election disinformation," the study states.
"While we have reported our findings to the relevant online platforms, this video stands as an interesting example of what a domestic, coordinated elite disinformation campaign looks like in the United States."
Project Veritas, led by conservative provocateur James O’Keefe, initially promoted the video’s release date as Monday, Sep. 28.
However, the New York Times released its investigation into President Donald Trump’s tax returns on Sep. 27, which the research report suggests prompted the early release of the allegations.
According to the research report, the move away from the initial release date signals a coordinated effort to draw attention away from the New York Times investigation.
The research report alleges the potential of coordination between Project Veritas and prominent conservatives. Lindell, for example, announced little over an hour after the New York Times story was published that he had spoken with O'Keefe and tweeted that the alleged ballot-harvesting evidence would be released on Sunday, a day earlier than planned.
Donald Trump Jr. meanwhile independently uploaded the Project Veritas video seven minutes after O'Keefe did, and also retweeted a post by O'Keefe concerning Rep. Omar shortly before the video was launched.
“Given their heavy early marketing of a Sept. 28 release date, it seems highly likely that the NYT report on the 27th contributed to O’Keefe and Project Veritas releasing their video a day early and abandoning their planned email distribution,” the report reads.
The report also notes that most social media platforms did little if anything to remove the video and associated disinformation, with the exception of TikTok.
“… this is a good example of the ability of a small number of coordinated political influencers to drive the narrative on a platform such as Twitter or Facebook and to generate millions of impressions for a single video,” the report concludes.
“This video should not be considered to have organically ‘gone viral’, and the effectiveness of this technique, as well as the weak response by the most critical platforms, lends us to believe that we should expect misleading videos of this type to be pushed in a similar fashion in the coming days.”
Ballot harvesting was briefly legal in Minnesota in 2020, but now it's not
"Ballot harvesting" became briefly legal in Minnesota this year thanks to a July 28 court ruling that scrapped the limit on the number of absentee ballots an individual can submit on behalf of others, acting as their "agent" to deliver them to an election office.
Project Veritas says that the video in which a man claims he's collected 300 absentee ballots were taken on July 1 and 2 (one of the videos is not dated, the other says July 2 on it). In any case, this was before the rule came into place and if the envelopes in the video were filled-out absentee ballots (the video doesn't prove this), it would have been illegal to collect and return them at that time.
It's always been illegal to fill out a ballot for someone else without their knowledge, or to pay someone to vote a certain way, or to be paid to collect and return ballots.
In any case, ballot harvesting will NOT be permitted in the 2020 elections, because the court ruling that allowed it in July was overturned on Sept. 4, before early voting started on Sept. 18. This follows a legal challenge by, among others, the Minnesota GOP.
This means the maximum number of ballots a designated "agent" can return on behalf of voters for the 2020 elections is, once again, three.
If someone turned up with hundreds of ballots in their possession, the maximum they would be able to return is three. What's more, their details are taken so that they are unable to return any more this election cycle.