The claim: Joseph Stalin once made a statement about the power of vote counters.
After days of counting, President-elect Joe Biden’s home state of Pennsylvania pushed him past the 270 electoral votes to become the 46th president of the United States.
The state’s key Democratic strongholds like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh counted mail-in ballots for days. And with each ballot counted, the former vice president’s lead over President Donald Trump grew.
Biden was sitting at 264 electoral votes, awaiting results from Pennsylvania, Nevada, Georgia and North Carolina. Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes pushed him over the mark on Saturday.
Ballot counting continued across the country on Tuesday.
As the election approached, memes and commentary on social media increased, including many posts that included inaccurate information.
One post, an image of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin with text added, appears to attribute a quip about vote counting to the dictator.
“Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything,” the post says, attributing it to “Communist Tyrant and mass murderer Josef Stalin.”
But experts say there’s no evidence Stalin ever uttered the words.
Stalin, who died in 1952, ruled the former Soviet Union under a brutal regime for decades. And although there is much on the record of the dictator’s opinion on elections, no one has yet verified the statement to be a true quote.
The Facebook image was posted by the page for online conservative radio personalities Walton & Johnson, also known as Steve Johnson and Ken Webster Jr. Walton & Johnson did not reply to an emailed request for comment.
The post has been shared more than 1,400 times, with over 150 comments as of Nov. 10. The page shared it with a link to information on how to listen to the radio show.
Versions of the quote have circulated for at least a year, sometimes attached to different photos or slightly extended.
“All I can say is, I’ve never seen it,” Vanderbilt University history professor Thomas Schwartz said. “This does not sound like a Stalin quote. I took a look at some quotes from him. It doesn’t show up.”
When a version of the quote began circulating on Facebook in 2019, PolitiFact attempted to find a solid attribution of the quote to Stalin, but couldn’t.
To Schwartz, the quote isn’t a surprising statement from someone watching an election — but not necessarily indicative of a communist perspective.
“It could have easily been Mayor Richard Daley here, or someone like that from America’s political past, you know, Boss Tweed, as much as Stalin, because the cynicism about elections and who counts the ballots could just as easily come from one of the bosses of our own political machines,” Schwartz said. “It’s a good quote, and certainly, I can see why people have said it. There’s a certain truth to it, even if it’s made up.”
Schwartz’s colleague in the Vanderbilt University history department agrees.
“He (Stalin) wrote quite a bit, unsurprisingly, as a Soviet head of state from 1928-1953 and an influential politician in the early Soviet Union before that,” Frank Wcislo, associate professor of history said in an email. “The suggestion that somehow Stalin should be introduced to demean the legitimate operation of a national election is, I would think, an example of American right-wing paranoia, active manipulation of public opinion, or outright and fascism.
“I would hate to insult Russian state trolls by suggesting they would be so crude as to suggest this connection.”
Our rating: False
We rate this claim as FALSE, because it was not supported by our research. Although former Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin may have commented on elections and vote counting integrity, there’s no evidence that he made this statement.
Our fact-check sources:
- Walton and Johnson, Facebook, Nov. 5,
- Lead Stories, Nov. 5, Fact Check: Purported Stalin Quote About Counting Votes Was NOT About General Elections
- Politifact, March 27, 2019, No, Joseph Stalin didn’t say this statement about elections
- The Stalin Digital Archive
- Interview with Thomas Alan Schwartz, distinguished professor of history, Vanderbilt University
- Email exchange with Farnk Wcislo, associate professor of history, Vanderbilt University
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