With midterm elections in the final stages, Americans could be faced with an onslaught of misinformation about the results. Recent trends suggest that suspected voter fraud will be one of the biggest issues.
Allegations of foul play — despite being repeatedly debunked after the 2020 presidential election — have entered voters’ minds. According to a recent Axios-Ipsos poll, nearly 40 percent of Republicans and a quarter of Democrats could blame fraud if their party doesn’t gain control of Congress on Nov. 8.
Such a perspective, with social media being armed by political agents and possibly foreign actors, poses an ongoing risk to democracy in the United States.
“There will be continued efforts to erode trust in the system,” warned Larry Norden, senior director of election and government programs at the Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal-minded think tank, citing “lies surrounding the election.” as his greatest fear.
False and misleading claims are brewing.
In Colorado, partisan websites misinterpreted a database error as a coordinated effort by Democrats to get non-citizens to vote. Social media posts in Alaska and Ohio led some voters to believe mail-in ballots wouldn’t count without proper postage.
Election officials across the country have launched websites to prepare for a spate of misinformation. Still, two years after debunked conspiracy theories and dozens of lawsuits by former President Donald Trump and his allies, experts say supporters’ convictions remain unbroken.
“We have a section of the American public that doesn’t believe in the legitimacy of the 2020 election — despite all the ample evidence,” Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), said during a press conference briefing this month.
As voters increasingly turn to social media for updates, experts recommend using extreme caution with claims of rigged elections.
“In fact, our voting systems are pretty secure,” said Rick Hasen, law professor and fraud expert at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA). “Voter fraud is usually small and isolated.”
– Cheating is rare –
The 2020 presidential election was the safest in American history, according to CISA. Litigation, audits and recounts have since confirmed this, contradicting repeated claims by Trump that stolen votes got Joe Biden into the White House.
“None of the allegations of widespread fraud have turned out to be true,” said Charles Stewart, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Choice Laboratory, noting “that’s not the same as saying there was no fraud.”
Individual cases were identified after the last federal election. But of the more than 65 million absentee ballots cast in 2020, there were 12 convictions for criminal fraud, according to a database maintained by conservative-leaning think tank Heritage Foundation.
Studies by the Brennan Center, which investigated fraud before 2020, also found that misconduct is uncommon. According to a 2007 report by the Policy Institute, Americans are more likely to be struck by lightning than pose as someone in an election.
“When voter fraud does occur, it’s most likely to occur in small local elections that don’t get a lot of attention,” Stewart said. “The cases of fraud in really big elections are particularly rare.”
Americans who commit such crimes face harsh penalties. Those convicted of allegations related to the 2020 election have been fined thousands of dollars and some face jail time.
“Voters should turn to official sources of information — and to experts and those in the press who focus on election issues — to find out when allegations of vote-rigging are legitimate or just more nonsense,” UCLA’s Hasen said.
– Ballots are checked –
Claims of dead voters and videos allegedly showing electoral misconduct reached large audiences in 2020. However, there are numerous safeguards in place to prevent ballots from being tampered with in person and through the mail.
Election officials verify the eligibility and identity of voters requesting absentee ballots using techniques such as signature matching. They also implement multiple security measures, including locks and tamper-evident seals, to protect Dropboxes.
Once the ballots are cast, there are “protocols to ensure chain of custody,” Stewart said.
“At every step, poll workers record how many ballots they have, who is transporting them (and) the numbers are matched at each location where they are removed or exchanged.”