With eight days to go until the most important election of our lifetimes, voters are being bombarded with half-truths and outright lies that may confuse the public and suppress the vote. Once again, foreign actors are seeking to disrupt our elections. The FBI recently alleged that Iran hacked into U.S. voter registration data and sent threatening, spoofed emails to voters. There is plenty of domestic misinformation and voter suppression, too — from falsehoods on the president's Twitter account to online campaigns targeting Black and Latino voters. In New Hampshire, the state Republican Party is spreading disinformation about college students' voting rights.
As tempting as it may be to retweet and rave about disinformation, that can be counterproductive. By publicly calling out false claims, we risk elevating the disinformation — and unintentionally spreading it. Instead, here are four concrete steps that the public, election officials, social media platforms and the media can take to combat disinformation.
- Everyone should share accurate information widely and rebut lies without amplifying the lie. For example, if you see disinformation about registration deadlines and voting rules, you should instead share accurate information from a trusted source, like 866ourvote.org, without repeating the misinformation. Voters can also report acts of disinformation to tip lines, such as this service created by Common Cause, which then crafts rapid responses to rebut dangerous, false claims.
- State and local election officials must communicate election rules proactively and clearly. This is especially important if rules or polling locations have changed because of Covid-19. Officials must not only ensure in-person voting is safe, they must also heavily communicate that it is safe. The public must be assured that there are enough poll workers, polling locations and personal protective equipment to keep everyone protected and healthy.
- The media and social media platforms have a role to play in ensuring voters get accurate and timely election information. Rules about election disinformation must be strictly enforced and accurate voting information must be routinely elevated, particularly information from trusted, nonpartisan, reached-based organizations like the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Brennan Center for Justice. Lies must be fact-checked, regardless of who they're coming from.
- Voters with questions or problems should get help from a trusted source like 866-OUR-VOTE. Individuals don't have to sort out disinformation and confusion by themselves. Services like the nonpartisan Election Protection Hotline are standing by to help voters with reliable information and experts who can troubleshoot problems when they're reported.
How to understand Misinformation, Disinformation and Malinformation
In this election, bad actors are indeed pushing disinformation, and it can feel overwhelming. But we all have a role to play so voters have accurate information to make informed choices. By following these best practices, we'll have a free and fair election unmarred by disinformation and voter suppression.
- How disinformation could sway the 2020 election - The Fulcrum ›
- It's our duty to combat pandemic's digital disinformation - The Fulcrum ›
- Disinformation in 2020 ›
- Senate report: Russia will succeed again without pushback - The ... ›
- Three takeaways from election meddling by Russia and Iran - The Fulcrum ›
- Disinformation spreaders should be barred from public office - The Fulcrum ›
College students are frequent targets of disinformation campaigns — especially in New Hampshire. The latest attempt to suppress the state's student vote came from the New Hampshire Republican Party, which requested that the state attorney general instruct local officials that college students attending a New Hampshire school remotely should not be allowed to vote there.
The GOP's request flies in the face of state law and was roundly rejected by Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, a Republican. A student who is enrolled in a New Hampshire college is eligible to vote in New Hampshire if they are 18 or older and have established "domicile" in New Hampshire, as MacDonald's office confirmed Oct. 21.
The term domicile might sound like confusing legal jargon. But in New Hampshire, it simply means a place considered home for social and civic purposes. So even though many college students are currently learning remotely due to Covid-19, they likely can still vote absentee in the Granite State.
To combat such a blatant attempt to spread disinformation, the Voter Protection Corps teamed up with New Hampshire Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky, a former gubernatorial candidate, to launch a "Know Your Rights" campaign for New Hampshire college students. We're using digital advertising, print newspaper advertising and social media monitoring to make sure students know that they might be eligible to vote in New Hampshire.
In New Hampshire, voters can register in-person at the polls on Election Day. Some towns have more options for registering in person in advance. More information about registering and voting in New Hampshire is available on our dedicated webpage at voter-protection.org/nhstudents. Students should call their local elections official or 866-OUR-VOTE with any further questions.
Attempts to suppress the vote among college students are shameful but unfortunately common. The best way to combat the spread of disinformation is to counter it with accurate information. It is essential that college students — and all voters — know their rights.
- Easier vote-by-mail and registration rules for New Hampshire - The ... ›
- N.H. college kids decry new rules restricting their voting - The Fulcrum ›
- Confusion over voting rights for college students in N.H. - The Fulcrum ›
There's growing concern across the United States that some overzealous partisans may stake out polling locations to intimidate voters. On live national television, President Trump infamously asked the Proud Boys to "stand back and stand by," a reference some white supremacists took as a call to action. The president's son Donald Trump Jr. has taken to social media to call for an "army for Trump" election-security operation, which would show up in person at polling places to "help us watch" the opposition. Last week, news broke that. Michigan's Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, had been the target of a kidnapping plot among energized militia members.
Intimidating voters is a federal crime, and law enforcement officials around the country are on high alert. While vigilance to ensure that every eligible voter can vote safely is necessary, a visible police presence at the polls would be a serious mistake because it can have the unintended consequence of being intimidating in its own right and suppressing lawful voting.
Here's a better approach:
- Train election officials and poll workers to handle voter intimidation, disruption and baseless challenges in ways that minimize disruption.
- Train law enforcement to respond to any problems with minimal visible presence at the polls. For example, plainclothes police officers in unmarked cars can provide security without intimidating voters.
- Pro-voting poll monitors, whether part of the nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition or associated with campaigns, can help election officials ensure a smooth and efficient voting experience.
- Voters can help, too. If you witness voter intimidation or challenges to any person's right to vote, please report the issue to the nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition at 866-OUR-VOTE.
By following best practices like these, we can work together to make voting safe and efficient. And, in the rare instances where disruptions occur, these best practices can help resolve them quickly and smoothly without creating additional barriers to voting.
- How to fight Trump's voter intimidation army - The Fulcrum ›
- Six things you can do about voter intimidation - The Fulcrum ›
- Poll watchers are not there to intimidate voters - The Fulcrum ›
- Education and outreach can beat voter intimidation - The Fulcrum ›