Witnesses warn Congress misinformation may disillusion voters but Santa Clara County confident
Santa Clara County will have 100 voting centers Oct. 31 to Nov. 3 and plenty of poll workers. File photo.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Congress must take swift action to combat voting misinformation and foreign interference in the November election, according to witnesses who testified this week before the House Subcommittee on Elections.

“If foreign countries are able to interfere in our elections, it undermines faith in the entire electoral process,” Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold said at a virtual hearing Oct. 6. “When voters doubt the process, they are less likely to participate, which weakens the very nature of our democracy.”

Griswold recently created the Rapid Response Election Security Cyber Unit to fight disinformation in Colorado. She previously practiced international anti-corruption law and has worked as a voter protection attorney.

She told the subcommittee the Office of the Director of National Intelligence found foreign states are currently trying to sway American voters. She said the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency also recently warned that foreign adversaries may attempt to undermine the election results by spreading false information online.

Griswold called on Congress to remove the protections given to social media companies by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

“Social media companies are not neutral platforms and third-party content posted on their sites can promote ill-intentioned foreign activity,” she said. “They should no longer be shielded from accountability.”

Griswold further advised lawmakers to require the intelligence community to rapidly declassify foreign misinformation so a bipartisan House committee could keep the public informed. She explained academic studies have found shedding light on disinformation is critical to countering it.

The subcommittee also heard from Inajo Davis Chappell, a member of the Board of Elections in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Voters in Cuyahoga County have voted by mail successfully since 2006, she said, but false information continues to persist about its alleged risks.

“Sadly, however, much of this misinformation is being promoted by President Donald Trump, the White House and other domestic bad actors who have unfairly demonized the vote-by-mail process,” she said.

Chappell said Congress could help by providing more funding for local election officials to increase community outreach efforts and voter education programming.

Regardless of any attempts to disengage voters, Subcommittee Chairwoman Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio)  said she believed citizens would vote in record numbers this year.

“I am going to predict today that the American people are so discouraged by the attacks on our democracy that they are going to vote in bigger numbers than anyone can imagine,” she said. “I believe that Americans have a real sense of fundamental fairness, a sense of what it means to believe in and support the Constitution, and what they believe is that elections do matter.”

The majority of Americans have concerns about the election process this year, according to two polls by the Pew Research Center. A survey in April found 67 percent of Americans thought it was very or somewhat likely the pandemic would significantly disrupt their ability to vote. Another poll in August concluded 75 percent of citizens believe it is likely foreign governments will attempt to influence the presidential election.

But election officials in Santa Clara County said they are well-prepared. Evelyn Mendez, the public and legislative affairs manager for the Registrar of Voters, explained local voters have plenty of safe options.

One hundred voting centers will be available Oct. 31 to Nov. 3 for those who prefer to vote in-person, she said, and the county has an excess number of poll workers on hand to assist voters.

“They are taking extra precautions at the vote centers to make sure voters feel safe,” she said, adding the centers are stocked with masks and hand sanitizer and that social distancing guidelines will be followed.

Mendez said voting by mail is also a secure option. Santa Clara County was already a vote-by-mail county and never previously had problems with the process.

“I would hope that people didn’t lose faith in the voting process,” she said. “…There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud, not in our county, not in our state.”

For more information, visit the Registrar of Voters website.

Contact Katie King at [email protected] or follow @KatieKingCST on Twitter.

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