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Combating Misinformation in Elections

Updated: Dec 5, 2022

Ryan Coker

Central Votes President and Democracy Fellow for Campus Vote Project

Never before have we seen such a massive questioning over the integrity of U.S. elections. It seems to have occurred over the course of the past couple of years— largely alongside the notion of “fake news.” In America, there has always been an emphasis on certain, undeniable civil liberties. One of the most significant liberties to our democracy is freedom of the press, and in America, it is largely seen as the media’s job to function as the “watchdog” and “gatekeeper” to the government, ultimately protecting the people by informing them on what the government is doing. However, this benefit has recently created the phenomena of “fake news.” Some have argued that fake news, rather it be explicitly false or a simple bias, is extremely dangerous, and should be prevented and stopped. Others have argued that fake news is nothing new and it is highly misguided, that stopping it would stifle speech rights, and the main focus should be on biases and inaccuracies. However, the point is that today, misinformation and fake news are widely believed concepts. If misinformation is to be real, then there must be people who believe in it. When it comes to our most sacred institutions such as our elections— we cannot afford to risk the health of these fundamental ideas to concepts that are not related to facts.

First, what are some things people assert about the election that are false? Here is a list of those ideas:

  • Voting by mail is harmful.

  • There is widespread voter fraud, especially from undocumented immigrants.

  • People are voting more than once.

  • It is bad for states to send people ballots and/or absentee ballot applications.

  • Votes are being cast on behalf of dead people and pets.

  • Mail-in ballots will lead to a ‘rigged’ election.

Due to the looming COVID-19 pandemic, absentee voting is more popular than ever and it is the best way to vote while safeguarding citizens’ health. However, this increase in mail-in voting has caused a great deal of false information about it. Overall, many officials have asserted that absentee voting is ultimately bad as it can lead to the rigging of the election, but this is false. President Trump recently claimed that “Democrats are also trying to rig the election by sending out tens of millions of mail-in ballots— they’re not sending them to Republican neighborhoods.” According to the New York Times, there have been numerous studies that show little evidence that mail-in ballots help one party over another and absentee voting is something supported by both parties as several Republican states like Iowa, Missouri and Alabama have expanded mail-in ballots this year.

Another large claim is that there are many people who are voting illegally, especially among those who are undocumented. However, extensive research has found that voter fraud is extremely rare, yet 25% of Americans believe that voter fraud is a “major problem” according to a Pew Research Study conducted in August. Arguably, this is due to the vast onslaught over the integrity of elections. Nonetheless, just because voter fraud is rare, that does not mean it does not happen at all, so where are these matters of voter fraud coming from? Contrary to the belief that thousands of undocumented immigrants voted in 2016, the very few cases of voter fraud reports occurred from administrative errors and complaints from the losers in very close elections according to a study published by a Columbia University political scientist. However, there have been many incidents in which non-citizens accidentally registered to vote. These cases largely arise out of the entanglements of DMV operations and voting. Notable incidents have occurred in Florida and New York where undocumented immigrants are able to apply for driver's licenses in the state, which makes it easier for them to mistakenly become registered voters when they are not eligible.

According to Nick LaLota, New York’s Suffolk County elections commissioner, "The state automatically registers them to vote unless they check a small box saying that no, they don't want to get registered to vote," LaLota said. "I would presume some of that happens intentionally, probably a larger amount happens unintentionally.” Consequently, many states have incorporated processes to prevent this from occurring by comparing records from the DMV and the Secretary of State.

These ideas are only just a small amount of what some people incorrectly claim about voting. One other big issue is simply misinformation that arises from the lack of understanding about voting. Many people do not know how to apply for an absentee ballot or how to register to vote. When we forget the very fundamental procedures needed to understand our systems, we open the door for false information to become the mainstream. It is important we combat this by educating not only ourselves, but our friends, families, and neighbors. If you are someone that happens to be concerned about election integrity you can sign up to be an election worker to watch over the polls in Michigan or when you’re out voting on November 3rd and you see something suspicious, report it to the election protection hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE.

Ryan Coker

Central Votes President and Democracy Fellow for Campus Vote Project


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