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Elections 2022: The Continued Battle Against Misinformation

With the 2022 midterms looming, elections officials around the country are working to keep false claims out of the headlines, push for free and fair elections, and foster constituent trust in the process.

voting booths
False and misleading narratives about how elections work and who won can deter voting and spark violence. But professional websites, misinformation hunting teams and public education campaigns help election departments spread truth and dispel falsehoods.

Today’s election officials know too well how mis- and disinformation about elections can cascade into political turmoil, insider threats, voter suppression and even physical violence. False narratives spurred the Jan. 6 insurrection, have targeted certain communities to dissuade voting and allegedly inspired a county clerk in Arizona to orchestrate a voting equipment security breach.

With midterms around the corner, officials are working hard to keep false claims from muddying residents’ understanding of elections and voting processes or their faith in the outcomes. The threat has evolved since 2016 thrust it into the public spotlight, and many officials and civic organizations recommend a multipronged approach. Elections teams must both seek out and counter inaccurate content, as well as proactively push out reliable information that voters can easily find and foster trust by making election experiences as smooth as possible.

Misinformation and 2022

2016 saw foreign actors play strong roles in creating confusion around elections, but in ensuing years, domestic players have become more significant sources, said Trevor Timmons, executive committee chair of the Election Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center (EI-ISAC), and CIO for Colorado’s Department of State, in a conversation with Government Technology*.

Still, foreign activity hasn’t gone away. Connecticut Deputy Secretary of State Scott Bates told GovTech he’s most concerned about U.S. states competing against deep-pocketed foreign nations in battles for truth. This disparity makes partnering with the federal government “essential,” he said.

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter still have Spanish-language posts active today from November 2020 that promote election lies with no warning labels.
The private sector also heavily influences the spread of inaccurate narratives, and 2020 saw many mainstream social media firms increase efforts to tackle false information on their platforms. However, the Open Technology Institute — a technology and policy-focused program from the New America think tank — reported in June 2022 that many such efforts “appear to have been temporary,” and that it was “unclear” if platforms that previously partnered with government and civic society players to “promote, verify or refute” posts would do so for the midterms.

Social media firms also have been more effective at removing false information in English than in other languages.

Stephanie Valencia, co-founder of Latino voter engagement organization EquisLabs, spoke on the issue during a federal hearing:

“Facebook, YouTube and Twitter still have Spanish-language posts active today from November 2020 that promote election lies with no warning labels,” Valencia testified in April 2022, 17 months later.

Social media firms have been falling short in other languages, too. More platforms need content moderators and translators who are familiar both with a language’s slang and dialects and with the cultural and political context of the local communities speaking it, said Emily Chi, director of Telecommunications, Technology and Media at Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), during the April 2022 hearing. Otherwise these professionals may miss the nuance necessary to catch misinformation.

“Most existing efforts to combat mis- and disinformation in the United States are exclusively focused on English-language content that centers on mainstream content and users,” Chi explained in written testimony. “… Generalized approaches to combating mis- and disinformation fail to address unique challenges and characteristics of disinformation that proliferates in the AAPI [Asian American and Pacific Islander] community.”
People checking in at a polling place to vote

Voting Machines vs. Voting Myths

A smooth, convenient voting experience can also help dispel residents’ fears about the reliability of elections, according to Tiana Epps-Johnson, founder and executive director of the election reform advocacy group the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL).

Election departments need more funding so they can repair polling facilities, purchase enough ballot paper and acquire ballot tallying equipment for timely results, she said. Internet bandwidth can also be a challenge, with some rural departments unable to download the state’s lengthy election operations manuals, Epps-Johnson told GovTech.

No. 1 is getting the right information out to people … An educated citizenry is the best defense against misinformation.
“The most important thing that the election official can do successfully is provide a great voter experience,” Epps-Johnson said.

Some counties have sought to make voting more convenient with tools like webpages and apps for estimating wait times at polls and online surveys for gathering feedback on how the voting process could be improved.

Once citizens have voted, elections departments need to be able to reliably verify results. Cyber experts like former Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) Director Chris Krebs have urged jurisdictions to adopt voting machines that leave auditable paper trails. More counties have moved this direction, with 92.2 percent of 2022 voters expected to have access to ballot marking devices (BMDs) or hand-marked paper ballots.

Eyes on the Lies

Physical equipment and infrastructure are only part of the task, and election officials also must fight a war of information. The first step in countering false narratives? Being able to identify them.

Counties need to know what’s being said about them, and the Center for Internet Security (CIS) recommends following online mentions of their county, elections officials and “other public figures.” Jurisdictions could also actively monitor election-related conversations occurring on both mainstream and niche social media platforms and follow relevant keywords and hashtags.

Maricopa County, Ariz., has been using brand sentiment analysis tools like Hootsuite and Brandwatch to track the tone of social media posts related to the county and directing a team of staff to review posts, explained county CISO Lester Godsey during a June 2022 RSA Conference presentation. This can tip off personnel before online discussions escalate into physical or cybersecurity threats. Officials want to be notified before misinformation-fueled conversations encourage someone into chasing down a county truck, for example. The team also checks for recurring phrasings and other clues that might indicate if the posts are part of a coordinated false information campaign.

Several states are making misinformation fighting a full-time job, and Bates spoke to GovTech as his team was closing hiring for an information security specialist. The individual will be responsible for scouring the dark web and publicly accessible information for early signs of election-related misinformation, then interceding before the falsehoods go viral, Bates said. The job post asks the specialist to review “Internet subculture websites” like 4chan, 8chan and Reddit, as well as mainstream social media and the dark web in real time. The specialist must also be fluent in both English and Spanish.

Connecticut first trialed such a position in 2020 using one-time federal funds. After promising experiences, the state is now making this part of its regular election practices. The 2020 specialist was able to quickly catch inaccurate statements, allowing the state to alert EI-ISAC, which then got the content removed.

“One [instance] was someone putting out there that absentee ballots had been sent to their dead relative. Well, that wasn’t true, because absentee ballots hadn’t gone out yet and hadn’t been available,” Bates said. “….That kind of information undermines public confidence in the system, because it’s simply not true.”

Residents can also help boost these efforts, and CIS recommends election officials ensure they have a phone line, email or other channel where constituents can report instances of mis- or disinformation.

Once they’ve identified mis- and disinformation online, election officials need to get it taken down before it spreads further. But plenty of other tasks demand their time, prompting players like the EI-ISAC to offer to deal with social media platforms for them, said EI-ISAC Director and former South Carolina Election Director Marci Andino.

“When they get heads down on conducting an election, they don’t have time to be scanning through social media sites and contacting social media if they see something that’s inaccurate,” Andino told GovTech. “We can report to the social media platforms, and we can follow up with them and also report back to the election officials, and it allows them to be able to focus on their task at hand: conducting an election.”

The EI-ISAC asks officials to send them a screenshot or URL of the misinformation, an explanation of which part is inaccurate and a link to corrective information. Thus equipped, the ISAC can follow up with social media platforms to get the content removed as well as alert CISA and other parts of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Andino said. The ISAC handled about 200 reports of false information during the 2020 general election.
Volunteer stands outside a polling place

Tips for Correcting Falsehoods

Maricopa County’s Godsey recommended that officials respond rapidly to correct instances of misinformation. And Timmons said phrasing fact checks in the right way is key to making readers more receptive to them.

“We lead with the truth,” Timmons said. “And then we can kind of explain why this nuance of the mis- or disinformation, how it is inaccurate.”

Officials debunking false claims should also remember to acknowledge the emotions that led readers to fall for the falsehoods. Doing so can make residents feel listened to, and thus more open to hearing what officials have to say, according to a guide from, an online collection of free resources “developed by, with and for election officials.”

The guide also recommends that corrective statements explain how the inaccurate information likely cropped up, with lines like, for example: “It’s easy to get confused about closed primaries, and this voter seems to have made a mistake.” Statements should provide corrections as well as direct audiences to sites where they can find answers to any lingering questions or take steps like verifying their voting registrations.

Website Design

One of the best defenses against election-related misinformation is to ensure voters already know how elections work and how to find answers if they’re unsure.

For some jurisdictions, the first step is launching an elections department website designed to look trustworthy and that is easy to use. Sites can present helpful information as well as dispel misconceptions. Many states now feature Fact vs. Fiction sites, Tahesha Way, New Jersey secretary of state and National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) president, told GovTech.

Local election departments ought to have their own websites, rather than rely on their state’s, recommended Epps-Johnson. That’s because these agencies have the perspective to provide local-specific information of which other levels of government may be unaware.

“There are hundreds of election departments — but mostly that serve small communities — right now that don’t have a basic website,” she said, adding that CTCL offers website templates agencies can use to get started.

Not all web presences are created equal, and Andino said using the .gov domain address lends departments more credibility. Writing content in “plain,” jargon-free language also helps make the information accessible to residents regardless of their literacy skills, Epps-Johnson said. About 54 percent of residents ages 16-74 “lack literacy proficiency,” according to a 2020 Gallup analysis of Department of Education data.

Election departments also need to start early to establish their web presences.’s guide encourages departments to publish content on their websites and social media well in advance of elections, so that by the time the date rolls around, voters already think of them as trusted resources.

In a similar vein, NASS launched a #TrustedInfo2022 campaign, with a timeline of steps beginning in January, designed to promote election officials’ websites and social media pages as accurate sources.

Unrelated government agencies can help get the word out, too. Epps-Johnson said some governments are featuring buttons on different departments’ web pages that, when clicked, send users to voting registration pages or other online resources.

“[This way] it’s not only information that’s coming siloed from an election department, but where the rest of government is getting into the game of making sure that people understand that an election is coming up, and that there’s opportunities to get involved,” Epps-Johnson said.

Proactive Education

While websites are a valuable tool, jurisdictions also need to present election information where voters will come across it, not just wait for them to seek it out on elections webpages. Connecticut, for example, charged its information security team with not only combating misinformation but also pushing out reliable content.

“This is a two-part plan. No. 1 is getting the right information out to people — that’s the public information campaign — and I think every state should be doing this. I’ve worked in a lot of different countries around the world, and they don’t just assume their citizens know how to register and vote; they actually get the information out to them,” Bates said. “An educated citizenry is the best defense against misinformation.”

Connecticut’s 2020 campaign used a mix of traditional channels like TV, radio and bus ads, as well as newer channels like ads on YouTube and online gaming platforms, Bates said. Timmons also pointed to several Colorado jurisdictions that used short videos to explain voting registration details and give reminders, which will catch some residents’ attention better than long pages of text.

And while the digital information ecosystem is important, it’s not the only place falsehoods spread. Colorado is also working on offline interventions and its information security team has been providing local election officials with playbooks of talking points and details about the election process, Timmons said. This way, officials have information at hand to correct misconceptions they hear when campaigning or at public meetings.

Direct outreach also matters. Communities that aren’t hearing directly from public figures and officials, and which lack newspapers in their native languages, may have to rely on “informal” sources for information like social media, which puts them at greater risk of being misinformed, said AAJC’s Chi.

Election officials are also increasingly learning how to step into the spotlight to inform residents about what to expect when voting. This is a departure from what’s traditionally been a behind-the-scenes, administrative role, Epps-Johnson said, and has been an adjustment.

Officials have had to learn how to discuss issues related to voting processes, while taking care to avoid inflaming conspiracy theories, Epps-Johnson noted. That means being nuanced and specific when explaining, for example, an issue in a type of voting equipment, and reminding people that the existence of a vulnerability doesn’t mean that the flaw has been exploited.

Election officials have also had to learn to navigate media interviews, as journalists put more attention on their roles, she said. Officials are also weighing when it’s important to speak to media to get information out, and when going on the record might expose them and their families to greater levels of harassment.

Government officials are not the only important messengers, either, and Epps-Johnson said many jurisdictions turn to trusted local organizations or individuals to help spread information. That can include reaching out to faith groups, veterans’ organizations, high schools, community groups and others.

For some immigrant communities, local messengers are especially important. Members of the community can check the accuracy and accessibility of translated materials, as well as better reach individuals who are wary of government, AAJC’s Chi testified.

“The collective history and memory of many Asian Americans, who have fled repressive governments or suffered violence and violations by institutions they once trusted, can make them more sensitive and distrustful of institutions like large tech companies and government entities,” Chi said.

Even as election officials are rallying a variety of strategies to win and keep voter trust and dispel falsehoods before the coming midterms, they’re also keeping their eyes trained far ahead.

“Every election official is not just looking at the general election for 2022; they’re also looking forward to 2024 and making plans already,” Andino said. She noted the work is constant: “Elections don’t just happen.”

*Government Technology is a sister site to Governing. Both are divisions of e.Republic.
Jule Pattison-Gordon is a senior staff writer for Government Technology. She previously wrote for PYMNTS and The Bay State Banner, and holds a B.A. in creative writing from Carnegie Mellon. She’s based outside Boston.
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