• Description

The prob­lem of elec­tion misin­form­a­tion is vast. Part of the prob­lem occurs when there is high demand for inform­a­tion about a topic, but the supply of accur­ate and reli­able inform­a­tion is inad­equate to meet that demand. The result­ing inform­a­tion gap creates oppor­tun­it­ies for misin­form­a­tion to emerge and spread.

One major elec­tion inform­a­tion gap developed in 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic drove many states to expand access to voting by mail. Inad­equate public know­ledge about the process left room for disin­form­a­tion mongers to spread false claims that mail voting would lead to wide­spread fraud. Elec­tion offi­cials could not fill inform­a­tion gaps with accur­ate inform­a­tion in time. As is now well known, no less than former Pres­id­ent Trump promoted these false claims, among others, to deny the 2020 pres­id­en­tial elec­tion results and provoke the Janu­ary 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

In 2022, false narrat­ives about a stolen 2020 elec­tion persist, even as an unpre­ced­en­ted spate of restrict­ive voting law changes across the coun­try has created fresh inform­a­tion gaps and, thus, fresh oppor­tun­it­ies for misin­form­a­tion. Since 2020, at least 18 states have shrunk voting access, often in ways that dramat­ic­ally alter proced­ures voters might remem­ber from the past. Mean­while, lies and vitriol about the 2020 elec­tion have affected percep­tions of elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion in ways that complic­ate work to defend against misin­form­a­tion.

This paper iden­ti­fies some of the most signi­fic­ant inform­a­tion gaps around elec­tions in 2022 and new devel­op­ments in elec­tions over­sight that will make it harder to guard against misin­form­a­tion. Ulti­mately, it recom­mends strategies that elec­tion offi­cials, journ­al­ists, social media compan­ies, civic groups, and indi­vidu­als can and should use to prevent misin­form­a­tion from filling gaps in public know­ledge. Lessons from other subjects, such as Covid-19 vaccine ingredi­ents and tech­no­lo­gies, show how timely responses and proact­ive "preb­unk­ing" with accur­ate inform­a­tion help to mitig­ate misin­form­a­tion.