Misinformation Overwhelms Native Election Officers

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Misinformation Overwhelms Local Election Officials

“They’re definitely overwhelmed,” said Isabella Garcia-Camargo, an organizer of the Election Integrity Partnership, a new coalition of misinformation researchers.

Since Sept. 8, she said, her group has investigated 182 cases of election-related misinformation, most of which started locally. When mail was found in a ditch in Greenville, Wis., for example, some conservative media outlets inaccurately claimed that Democrats were dumping absentee ballots. In Germantown, Md., a video of an election official darkening an oval on a ballot was erroneously used as evidence that voters’ preferences were being altered, Ms. Garcia-Camargo said.

Last week, the Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center, an information-sharing partnership, warned election officials about a spate of suspicious emails that impersonated state officials or included links to websites that asked them to verify their password information.

The emails, reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal, did not appear to be part of a coordinated campaign, said Jason Forget, a spokesman for the group. But it was a sign that local officials should “remain vigilant in identifying and reporting suspicious activity to protect the vote,” he said.

Top state officials who oversee elections said they were also constantly communicating with local authorities about the surge of falsehoods. In Colorado, Jena Griswold, the secretary of state, said her office had held a call with local officials and county clerks this month after the disclosure that Iran was behind threatening emails meant to influence American voters.

Ms. Griswold said she wanted to ensure that the officials were equipped in case they encountered similar messages and reminded them of the best practices for online security.

“This is just a tough year for everybody in our office,” she said.

The experience of Deva Marie Proto, the registrar of voters in Sonoma County, Calif., has been typical of local election officials. Some mornings, she rises at 5 to answer voter questions on Facebook. She then heads to the county offices in Santa Rosa to lift the morale of the 15 full-time staff members, plus a handful of temporary election workers, who are dealing with people’s calls about rumors and conspiracies.