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Secretaries of State Unite to Fight Election Misinformation

Elections officials nationwide came together under the hashtag #TrustedInfo2020 on Thursday to help ensure voters have access to accurate election info, hoping to prevent foreign influence on the democratic process.

Residents arrive at their polling place
Residents arrive at their polling place to cast votes at St. Paul Methodist Church in Louisville, Ky., on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. (John Sommers II/Getty Images/TNS)
There’s no question — the U.S. election system is vulnerable. In fact, it’s even more vulnerable than originally reported following the 2016 election. Government executives at all levels know, and they’re working on the problem, focusing on cybersecurity, inter-agency communication, paper trails and  audits.  

And the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) is working another angle: In mid-November, it launched  #TrustedInfo2020, an education campaign that aims to fight election misinformation by encouraging citizens to “look to their state and local election officials as the trusted sources for election information,” according to the press release.

The nation's secretaries of state, 40 of whom serve as their state’s chief election official, will guide voters directly to election officials’ websites and verified social media pages to ensure they get accurate election information.

In a NASS-led Twitter chat held Dec. 12, secretaries of state from California to West Virginia — along with various groups and associations — discussed the initiative and how likely it is to make an impact. 

Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill answered the first question — why the #TrustedInfo2020 campaign is important — by noting our democracy is only as strong as the information our voters have. “It’s crucial that voters know how to seek out and identify quality sources for election news & information,” she said. 

In Iowa, Secretary of State Paul Pate pointed out that foreign adversaries and bad actors want to sow discord and create doubt in our elections. “We can overcome that by working together in a bipartisan way to combat misinformation/disinformation,” he said. “It’s vital that voters have reliable sources for election info.” 

Merrill also noted the teamwork involved in this endeavor. 

This is a nationwide effort to combat the malicious spread of disinfo by foreign governments intended to influence our electorate. @NASSorg & Secretaries of State across the nation will be sharing voter-empowering tools to make sure every person’s vote counts. #TrustedInfo2020 — Denise Merrill (@SOTSMerrill) December 12, 2019
In Connecticut, not only is Merrill talking about #TrustedInfo2020 everywhere she goes, but she also has launched a #DigitalCitizenship education campaign in the state.

In Pennsylvania, the Department of State will provide to its network a promotional toolkit aimed at educating Pennsylvanians on the 2020 voting process. This campaign also helps the department “show how we are defending the integrity and security of our elections with layers of protection such as: ongoing training, enhanced post-election audits, partnerships with security experts, and more.”

The “more” includes all Pennsylvania counties deploying new voting systems with voter-verified paper records no later than the 2020 primary election.

And in California, the office of Secretary of State Alex Padilla has created, a “one stop website with instructions on voting for president in California on March 3, 2020,” the office said during the chat. “The rules for a presidential primary are different than most elections, so it’s critical that CA voters get #TrustedInfo2020 from our office.”

California also is going beyond social media; Padilla’s office will send #TrustedInfo2020 directly to California voters in the coming year. “We will email voters information and deadlines, so they have election tools right in their inbox.”

In Washington, Secretary of State Kim Wyman said her office is incorporating #TrustedInfo2020 into 2020 election information by adding it to their outreach efforts. “This includes adding the hashtag on our election related social media posts, graphics, and other outreach materials we provide for voters and candidates,” she said. 

Several secretaries of state are also incorporating #TrustedInfo2020 on social media posts, voter guides and websites, and Iowa’s Pate said his office is taking the message straight to the voters through social and traditional media. “We’re encouraging Iowans to rely on election officials for their information, and not fall for everything they read on the internet.” 

The Orange County, Fla., Supervisor of Elections Office echoed that sentiment: “When in doubt, check with us,” they said during the chat. “If it is not official communication from our office, don't automatically assume it's right.” 

The secretaries of state are getting creative too.

The office of West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner is working to create “fun #TrustedInfo2020 selfie signs” for county clerks, and will use the signs to introduce the clerks on social media “as trusted sources for election information in their regions.”

Wyman’s office in Washington is planning a comprehensive campaign that includes videos. “We want #TrustedInfo2020 to be synonymous with @secstatewa here in Washington.”

Shareable graphics are part of the mix as well. 

A4: My team & I are always promoting creative graphics to help simplify the issue of misinformation online. So far, this one from @DHSgov is my favorite (share yours!) #TrustedInfo2020 — Denise Merrill (@SOTSMerrill) December 12, 2019
Even the Council of State Archivists (CoSA) will be asking state archives “to share images of historical voting records and of photos relating to voting and #elections” and promoting wider distribution of its, "When Information is Misinformation" infographic, which is a collaborative effort among CoSA, NASS and the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies.

Perhaps the biggest question is whether this campaign will have an impact, and the primary answers from chat participants who chimed in were, “Yes!” “Absolutely.” “We think so!” While the goal is well-intentioned and its execution seemingly solid, however, only time will tell how well the masses plug in to election information coming from official sources.

The #TrustedInfo2020 education campaign runs from Nov. 12, 2019 through Dec. 31, 2020.