Misinformation, violence and paper shortages threaten midterm elections, officials say

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Last week, members of a U.S. Senate panel and election administrators expressed widespread concern about the challenges election officials will face this fall, saying issues ranging from lack of paper to coordinated disinformation campaigns could affect confidence in American democracy.

A bipartisan panel of current and former election officials and experts told the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration on Thursday that state officials face threats of physical violence, while dealing with misinformation, supply chain challenges and funding shortfalls, making it more difficult to administer this year’s midterm elections. .

Speaker Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, listed those developments at the start of the hearing. She pointed to threats that led to officials in Colorado receiving active shooter training and body armor as morale among election administrators nationwide is critically low.

“In light of these challenges, we must support election officials working on the front lines of our democracy,” Klobuchar said.

In addition to relatively new concerns about holding elections in a pandemic, Ranking Republican Roy Blunt of Missouri noted that foreign and domestic adversaries persist in targeting election infrastructure and spreading misinformation online.

Violence triggered by online sources

Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said misinformation remained a problem in election administration.

Online misinformation inspired the racist killer of 10 black people at a Buffalo grocery store last weekend and led to threats against election bureaucrats, he said.

Laws recently passed by states limiting access to ballots in the name of election security also stem from unfounded misinformation, Hewitt said. The laws, passed in many Republican-led states since the 2020 election, lend legitimacy to theories that elections are unsafe, he added, heightening the risk of violence.

“They are giving those who want to sow violence, doubt and misdirection in the electoral process… a political cover-up for their threats and attacks,” he said. “Put simply, these laws undermine our democracy and its promise.”

Wesley Wilcox, the Republican Elections Supervisor for Marion County, Florida, said he has also faced threats, despite the state’s strong performance in the 2020 election cycle.

“Florida has been touted as the gold standard and model for voting in the 2020 election,” he said. “But lately the accolades have dwindled and the kudos for a job well done have ceased. Instead, they have been replaced by threats of violence against us or our families.

There’s not even enough paper

A new issue for this election cycle is the backlog in the supply chain, which has limited election offices’ access to a basic but crucial item needed for elections: paper.

Louisiana Secretary of State R. Kyle Ardoin, a Republican, said his state needs to contact every paper producer in North America “to make sure we have the supplies we need.”

“This is a crisis that demands immediate attention and bipartisan action,” Ardoin said. “It is no exaggeration to say that if this situation is not managed, it could lead to a serious erosion of confidence in our elections.”

The increase in mail-in voting has only increased the need for paper supplies, Ardoin said. It was one of the reasons for promoting in-person voting, he said.

Leigh M. Chapman, acting secretary of state for Pennsylvania appointed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, said Tuesday’s Commonwealth primaries were a success, “with minimal fuss.”

One issue, however, a breakdown in Lancaster County’s process for counting 22,000 early ballots that required those ballots to be counted by hand, bolstered a request from Chapman’s department to allow pre-canvassing.

Pre-canvassing is the process by which election officials count ballots that have arrived before Election Day. While 37 states allow pre-canvassing, Pennsylvania is among those that do not, making it harder for Commonwealth election officials to report vote totals sooner and deal with Election Day issues. as they arise, Chapman said.

She added that Florida’s pre-canvassing regime allowed election observers to call the state in the 2020 presidential election on Election Day. The major networks didn’t announce the result in Pennsylvania, however, until four days later.

Barely Mentioned Big Lie

Senators and a witness panel of current and former state election officials mostly avoided discussing former President Donald Trump’s false claims of 2020 election malfeasance that caused his loss. The false narrative has gained prominence within the Republican Party across the country, including among elected officials and candidates in this year’s election.

Without mentioning Trump or his supporters by name, Chapman said it’s “particularly disturbing” that some misinformation is coming from those “with a sworn obligation to defend our democratic process.” She was clear about the integrity of the 2020 election and the harm voter malfeasance is doing to trust in American democracy.

“The November 2020 election in Pennsylvania, like all elections since, was free, fair and secure,” she said. “Allegations of illegal activity in the 2020 presidential election in Pennsylvania have been repeatedly dismissed in more than two dozen federal court cases and debunked by independent fact-checkers. Repeating this lie over and over again harms our democracy and the confidence of voters in our electoral process.”

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Senators aired familiar partisan arguments about accessibility and voting security during parts of the hearing.

U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, said the expansion of non-traditional voting avenues, like mail-in voting, invites fraud.

“Democrats continue to move in the direction of election chaos,” he said.

Ardoin told Cruz his office couldn’t process mail-in ballots quickly enough to be sure they were legitimate.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, asked Chapman if mail-in ballots posed any problems in this week’s primary election.

She replied no.

Wilcox said in an opening statement that his goal was to make it easier to vote, but hard to cheat.

Alex Padilla, a Democrat who joined the Senate after serving as California’s secretary of state, told Wilcox the slogan can be used as a pretext to restrict voting rights, with too much focus given to stopping cheating almost non-existent and not enough attention to make voting easier.

“If you look at the data, we have the hardest part to cheat because voter fraud in America is extremely rare,” he said. “What frustrates me first is that my colleagues forget the first part, the easiest part to vote on.”

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