On or around 5 March 2016, a social media rumor began to circulate that Bernie Sanders was not on the “Chicago sample primary ballot”:
— Sanders Will Win (@sanderswillwin) March 6, 2016
On 7 March 2016, a Daily Kos diarist published an entry (“Bernie Sanders OMITTED From Chicago Democratic Sample Ballot”) advancing the rumor that Sanders was omitted from primary ballots in Chicago. On 8 March 2016, the Facebook page “The People for Bernie Sanders 2016” published a photo of a “sample ballot”:
Commenters on that post were quick to point out that votes for Sanders could and had been cast in that primary, calling the claim into question:
Here in Chicago My grandmother voted early and she voted for Bernie so idk what this is.
From that point, many other social media users inferred that the only way to cast a vote for Sanders was through a write-in vote, assuming he was not listed on ballots. The claim reached a much larger audience when actor and comedian Sarah Silverman sent the following tweet on 10 March 2016:
— Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) March 10, 2016
At that point, the claim was also receiving additional visibility on Facebook:
Many were confused by the use of the term “sample ballot,” believing that they were literal samples of the actual documents. Further complicating matters was the fact that the Chicago Board of Elections did make available sample ballots viewable by voters ahead of primary elections; some people seemed to be confusing actual sample ballots with party-issued endorsements.
We spoke to an individual at Chicago’s Board of Elections, who told he he was aware of the claims and explained that social media users were confusing campaign literature with actual state ballots. He confirmed that Sanders was indeed a candidate for whom registered voters in Chicago and the state of Illinois could vote if they wished, and that “sample ballots” were not in any way to be considered legitimate examples of actual primary election ballots.
The Chicago Board of Elections has an official web site where anyone can view an official sample ballot (a valid address was a pre-requisite to view the ballot, and we used the Cook County Democrats N. LaSalle Street location). Sanders was indeed listed on that ballot:
The controversial campaign literature was also available on the Cook County Democratic Party’s web site, both as a page and a downloadable PDF. Both versions were labeled as indicative of the party’s endorsement of Clinton, not Sanders:
While it was true that the “sample ballot” existed, it announced 2016 endorsements made by Cook County Democrats and wasn’t a Board of Elections sample ballot. An 8 March 2016 tweet featured a screencap in which the former organization attempted to explain their endorsement:
— Joshua Clinton (@joshuaclintonn) March 8, 2016
Since Cook County Democrats endorsed Hillary Clinton, their “sample ballot” simply advised voters of the group’s preferred voting slate. However, Sanders was not omitted from any official ballots, nor did supporters in Cook County need to write-in a primary ballot vote for Sanders. Whether or not voters in Chicago and elsewhere approved of Cook County Democrats’ endorsements, the sample ballot had no bearing on actual official ballots where Sanders appeared alongside Clinton as a candidate. Localized political parties regularly can and do endorse their own preferred candidates, an activity that is both common and accepted in the course of elections.