Election Day is fast approaching, and the midterms are being watched extremely closely. The Midterm Monitor project provides a tool to better understand the online conversation around the election. Our research using the tool finds that various myths are gaining traction on social media, underscoring the importance of clarifying key facts.
FACT #1: Voting by mail and using drop boxes are safe and trustworthy ways to vote thanks to numerous security features that protect against fraud.
Myth vs. Fact: We’ve seen numerous social media posts falsely claiming that drop boxes, voting by mail, or absentee voting are vehicles for mass voter fraud. The reality is that mail ballots have been successfully used in the United States for over 150 years, and in that time, states have developed multiple layers of security to protect against malfeasance.
Voter fraud related to ballots sent by mail or placed in drop boxes is extremely rare — so rare that multiple analyses have shown that it is more likely that someone will be struck by lightning than commit mail ballot fraud. While practices vary by state, among the most common is monitoring drop boxes by video surveillance or with bipartisan teams of election workers to ensure that votes are not stolen or tampered with. Another widely used method is ensuring that bipartisan teams are present when mail ballots are handled, including when they are processed and counted.
FACT #2: Multiple layers of security ensure that voting machines accurately record votes.
Myth vs. Fact: Some candidates have been using the news that a Dominion voter assist system used to print ballots ended up for sale — first at Goodwill, then later on eBay — as reason to cast doubt on vote totals from voting machines. This is wrong on a number of levels.
First, this system in question is not a voting machine that tabulates votes, and access to a machine like it could not have altered vote counting. It is typically used by voters with disabilities to fill out their paper ballots. It was purchased by a cybersecurity expert who regularly works with election officials to test voting technology and identify potential vulnerabilities. After buying it on eBay, he contacted the Michigan secretary of state’s office to ensure it was legal for the machine to be available.
Regardless of the facts of this particular case, our election system has numerous checks in place to prevent fraudulent ballots from being accepted in an actual election and to check that electronic systems are tabulating votes accurately. While practices vary by locality, all state and local officials employ a combination of testing and certification practices both before and after elections. This includes federal, state, and local testing during procurement and immediately before each election, as well as post-election audits comparing paper totals to machine counts.
FACT #3: Many safeguards exist to ensure voters cast ballots only once and to thwart someone from voting under a dead person’s name.
Myth vs. Fact. The Midterm Monitor shows several Facebook and Instagram posts by secretary of state candidates promoting the idea that “dead people voted” in 2020 or that dead people were being intentionally left on voter rolls to rig the upcoming election.
Voter fraud is unacceptable — and extremely rare. Many good-faith claims of voter fraud are traceable to other sources and fall apart under closer inspection. Several election security measures protect against the possibility eligible voters casting more than one ballot or of anyone voting in the name of a dead person.
All states regularly update their voter rolls to remove dead people and voters who have moved out of state. States are required to coordinate with government agencies that tracks deaths, and they often work with the U.S. Postal Service’s National Change of Address Program and other states to ensure their records are up to date. States also log who has voted during early, absentee, and mail voting to prevent double voting in person or through duplicate mail ballots.
FACT #4: Noncitizens voting is practically nonexistent.
Myth v. Fact. Roughly a third of the social media posts from secretary of state candidates claiming that dead people voted also mention noncitizens voting.
Several studies and state-led investigations have shown that noncitizen voting in federal and statewide elections virtually never happens — and that’s no surprise. It’s illegal, and if a noncitizen intentionally registers or votes in one of those elections, they will face fines, prison, and deportation — all effective deterrents. Further, it’s not hard to identify noncitizen voting since they would have to do it with their own names. In several states in recent years — including in Florida, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and Ohio — state election officials have devoted significant investigative resources to finding fraudulent registrations without finding more than a handful of violations out of tens of millions of votes. Political parties and private citizens have access to these rolls as well. Here too, interested parties have turned up almost no voting by noncitizens.
FACT #5: Machine counting large numbers of ballots with multiple contests is more accurate and reliable than hand counting.
Myth vs. Fact: Some election deniers are pushing the idea that ballots in the midterms should be counted by hand, wrongly claiming it would provide more security.
American election officials have moved away from hand counting in all but the smallest jurisdictions. Several studies have shown that when counting a large number of ballots with multiple contests, hand counting is more expensive, inefficient, and error-prone than machine counting. Having people count votes by hand is not more secure. The machines that count ballots must meet federal and state security standards and go through testing to ensure that the machines are accurately counting ballots.
Of course, no system is perfect. Hand counting of ballots can be and is an important check on the accuracy of machines. Forty-four states require post-election tabulation audits, which typically involve counting a sample of ballots by hand to confirm that the machines worked properly. But hand counting 100 percent of all contests on paper ballots before canvassing and certification can be complete is infeasible in all but the smallest jurisdictions.
FACT #6: Election officials are obligated to certify accurate election results, even if the officials don’t like them.
Myth vs. Fact: Using the midterm monitor, we can see that there are calls online for election officials to refuse to certify results they don’t trust, something they are not legally permitted to do.
An example of how this can play out can be found in the initial refusal of county commissioners in Otero County, New Mexico, to certify the primary election results. The commissioners reversed their decision after being ordered to do so by the state supreme court, though one member refused to comply, citing a “gut feeling” that the process could not be trusted. While he was removed from his position for unrelated reasons, the secretary of state’s office had reportedly considered pursuing criminal charges with the state’s attorney general for failing to adhere to the court’s order.
State and local officials certify election results after all votes have been counted and, in some cases, after any recounts, post-election audits, or legal challenges have been completed and have confirmed the vote totals. Once these totals are final, the act of certifying the election is ministerial — it doesn’t matter if the person charged with this duty doesn’t like the results. Election officials and governors are obligated to certify the candidate with the most votes as the winner.
FACT #7: The Election Registration Information Center (ERIC) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization used by more than 30 states to improve the accuracy of voter rolls.
Myth vs. Fact: ERIC has been cited with suspicion by election deniers who believe it’s part of a plot to tip the scales in favor of Democrats. This is patently false.
ERIC is a nonprofit partnership created by states to help them maintain accurate voter rolls and increase access to registration for all eligible voters. Through ERIC, member states can analyze their voter rolls and match data against records from other participating states and federal agencies.
States voluntarily join ERIC, and participation is widely bipartisan. Indeed, nearly one-third of ERIC member states have Republican governors and GOP-controlled legislatures, including Arizona, Iowa, Missouri, and South Carolina.
Member states share voter registration data with one another to detect vulnerabilities in state election systems and safeguard the accuracy of voter rolls, including by providing information about voters who have moved within or out of state, voters who have died, and voters who are potentially eligible to vote but are not registered. The database is controlled, funded, and operated by the states that use the system.