Written by Christina A. Cassidy
After an election marked by conspiracy theories and false allegations, the election authorities of the United States begin to prepare for what is to come.
They are looking for ways to counter the vast amount of misinformation about the electoral process and its results with a view to midterm elections in 2022 and beyond.
The overriding theme at this week’s virtual meetings of the National Association of State Secretaries (who oversee the vote) and the National Association of State Election Managers is what to do with voters who have lost faith in the system due to misinformation circulating in the 2020 presidential elections.
“There are people who will not believe in anything and I will not try to convince them otherwise,” said Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. “It’s a pity, but it’s what we have.”
People keep calling his office convinced that the presidential vote was rigged, said Jared Dering, executive director of the Kentucky State Board of Elections. Voter fraud is extremely rare and nearly impossible to alter the outcome of a national election. Elections are controlled by the states and supervised by the provinces or other local jurisdictions.
“One of the things that we talk about in our circle is that we continue to receive these calls from people who talk about conspiracy theories,” Dering said, adding that in most cases it is impossible to change their minds.
City and state election officials have said numerous times that the 2020 elections were clean and safe despite President Donald Trump and his allies claiming they were stolen from them. Courts dismissed numerous complaints of wrongdoing and personalities from both sides conducted investigations without finding anything. Trump’s attorney general said there is no evidence of widespread fraud that could alter the outcome.
The number of false allegations in 2020 and the speed with which they spread via social media have caused major problems for election officials, who have had to confront these lies while ensuring that everything is going well in the midst of the pandemic.
“It all came together and gave way to a big lie trying to undermine confidence in the election,” said Matt Masterson, a former executive director at the US Agency for Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security.
Masterson urged election officials to continue to look for ways to counter disinformation campaigns and not be ashamed of what happened last year.
“I know that with everything that happened, we felt that we did everything that needed to be done and nobody listened to us,” he said. “But it is difficult to determine and understand how many people have accepted it and rejected what was said.”
Among the issues to be resolved is what role the state and municipal electoral authorities will play and what the federal government must do to identify and correct electoral misinformation.
The US Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency, which is responsible for helping protect electoral systems, launched its “rumor check” portal last year in the face of an amount of misinformation.
It is unclear whether the federal government will continue to intervene. Agency officials said state and municipal authorities are best to counter the false information.
On the one hand, “strong interference” can backfire and prompt people to lock themselves further in information bubbles, according to Bob Kolasky, deputy director of the acting National Center for Risk Management.
“We don’t want to lecture people and tell them that everything they think is wrong without showing some understanding of their ideas,” he said.
Another issue analyzed was the threats that election officials received and continue to receive for refusing to accept allegations of wrongdoing.
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