In a dramatic studio set with two dozen interactive actors zombie-walking on top of a giant U.S. flag, Olga Skabeyeva, star host of Russian state-owned TV channel Rossiya-24, declared: “A million and a half dead voted, and that is already an established fact!”
Skabeyeva’s claim in the November 6 broadcast of her daily prime-time political talk show, “60 minutes,” was in reference to the U.S. presidential election earlier this month. A large banner projected on the studio wall read: “1,8 million dead voters in the U.S. elections. Study by Judicial Watch.”
“In the state of Georgia, the margin is less than 1,000 votes,” Yevgeny Popov, Skabeyeva’s husband and co-host, claimed during the first few seconds into the show. “The amount of dirt and fraud in the American elections is so grand that even in Africa and in our beloved Ukraine [people] are in awe.”
The statements about dead voters are false, part of a drumbeat in Russian state media to disparage the election and mock divisions in the U.S.
The show refers to a study by the U.S. right-wing legal activist group Judicial Watch in claiming that 1.8 million dead Americans voted in 2020 presidential elections. On October 20, that organization said its study discovered “ghost voters” in multiple U.S. states. However, contrary to Skabeyeva’s claim, the study did not “establish” that these 1.8 million dead people have “voted” in the last week presidential elections Judicial Watch only “projected” that the issue may affect the mail-in vote system and lead to “dirty elections.”
Claims of widespread fraud in the election, encouraged by President Donald Trump and Republican supporters, have been vociferously disputed by elections officials who say there is no evidence to support them. Regardless, Trump has declined to concede the November 3 election to Democrat Joe Biden, who has been projected to win more than the required 270 electoral votes from U.S states to take office in January.
The Judicial Watch study had been examined by the Snopes’ fact-checking organization, which found its methods misleading for “making problematic comparison between two different types of datasets.”
But the 1.8 million-dead-voters figure also came up, though attributed to a different source than Judicial Watch, after a Trump campaign speech in Wisconsin on October 17. “The following information comes straight from Pew Research, quote,” Trump said. “More than 1.8 million deceased individuals, right now, are listed as voters.’ Oh, that’s wonderful.”
“I have a feeling they’re not gonna vote for me. Of the 1.8 million, 1.8 million is voting for someone else,” Trump said, according to FactCheck.org, which, along with the Washington Post and other fact-checkers, rated Trump’s remarks false based on interviews with experts and election officials.
As FactCheck.org reported, Trump’s reference to the study by the Pew Research Center and the 1.8 million figure was accurate: In 2012 the Pew Trust released a 12-page report detailing lapses in the U.S. voter registration system and arguing that a systemic update was necessary. But Pew never said 1.8 million dead people voted, only that voter registration files “needed an upgrade.”
Another problem: At the time of “60 minutes” broadcast, the margin of votes in Georgia between Trump and Biden was not less than 1,000. In fact, on Friday, November 6, when Popov cited the figure, the actual margin was about 1,500 by midday and 4,235 by early evening Washington, D.C., time.
As of the latest count, Biden’s lead in voting has grown to more than 14,000. Georgia’s secretary of state announced Wednesday that there will be a hand recount, but even Republican officials there have said it is unlikely to reverse Biden’s apparent victory in that state.
Popov’s sweeping assertion that there is a “grand” amount of “dirt and fraud” in the election is contradicted by numerous rebuttals from election officials and the fact that courts have for the most part rejected Republican lawsuits challenging the results in states where the Trump camp has sued.
International observers from the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe and the Organization of American States who monitored the U.S. elections said they saw no evidence of widespread fraud.
But Rossiya-24 is not an exception: State-controlled media and top newsmakers were in lockstep with the same narrative. “Rigged,” “Stolen,” “Fraud,” “Dishonest,” “Falsified,” and “Zombie Apocalypses” are among the headlines in the Russian media reports.
“If the results of the presidential elections will intensify the intra-American contradictions, it would be laughable if Russia (as a superpower-opponent of the U.S.) did not use the situation and not play on it,” the Kremlin-owned RIA Novosti’s influential columnist, Petr Akopov wrote in a November 10 column reprinted by Sputnik news and other state outlets.
Echoing the Russian coverage, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who is facing months-long mass protests since his disputed re-election in August, declared the U.S. vote a “shameful mockery of democracy.”
On November 9, the Kremlin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the media that Russian President Vladimir Putin had not yet congratulated Biden with victory because, “We consider it correct to wait for official announcement.” Russia, accompanied by China, Brazil and Mexico, is among the countries whose leaders have yet to contact Biden with congratulations.
As the U.S. leader, Biden would become the fifth American president during Putin’s two decades of power in Russia. The predecessors were Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Trump, each of whom attempted reconciliation with their Russian counterpart with little success. Biden has not made any such pledges of a new reset of relations.