Debunking Election Myths This Thanksgiving
On Thursday, families and friends around the country will gather to share a meal — and political opinions — for Thanksgiving. Last year, we debunked five myths that were rampant in 2021. Fresh off of another election, there are new misconceptions floating around. Today, we’re pushing back against five more myths you may hear around the dining table this year and giving you the facts you need to counter them.
FACT: Electronic voting machines are secure and accurate.
MYTH: Electronic voting machines change votes.
This year, conspiratorial lawsuits were filed in Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, New Hampshire and Oregon challenging the use of electronic voting machines; several of these have already been dismissed as meritless. When people critique electronic voting machines based on right-wing misinformation, they often conflate two different types of election equipment: The first type is a direct recording electronic (DRE) voting machine, a system that electronically stores and transmits voting results. Without a paper trail, this system can be vulnerable to issues. However, paperless DRE machines have been almost completely phased out across the country, with most marking devices printing a paper ballot or receipt. The second type of electronic voting machine that gets lumped into conspiracy theories is the device that tabulates ballot results. It does so in a similar way that a machine might score a standardized test with multiple choice bubbles.
The susceptible DRE machines aren’t widely in use and in general, voting technology has helped much more than hurt the accuracy and efficiency of casting a vote and tabulating results. Additionally, right before an election, local officials will conduct logic and accuracy testing, a check that all equipment is marking or tabulating votes as intended by the voter. Post-election audits further confirm that equipment is working properly.
FACT: Hand counting can be useful in recounts or audits, but not as a primary method of tabulating election results.
MYTH: We need to hand count all elections.
“While hand counting is an important tool for recounts and audits, tallying entire elections by hand in any but the smallest jurisdictions would cause chaos and make results less accurate, not more,” the New York Times recently wrote, summarizing the overwhelming sentiment of election administration experts. Researchers who study this topic agree that hand counting is less accurate, more expensive and more time consuming than electronic tabulation. Humans struggle with rote, repetitive tasks while electronic ballot tabulators are designed explicitly for this purpose. Without electronic tabulators, it would take weeks or months to confirm the results in all the races. This year, several rogue counties across the country considered expanding hand counting but often faced legal challenges.
FACT: Counting election results has always taken time and different factors can prolong the process.
MYTH: The slower release of election results is a new problem.
Several weeks ago, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tweeted: “Why is it only Democrat blue cities that take ‘days’ to count their votes? The rest of the country manages to get it done on election night.” This is not true: The results we see on TV before going to sleep on election night are, and always have been, unofficial results and media projections. It can take election workers days or weeks to count, canvass and certify results. A combination of several factors and state-specific characteristics, including the increased use in mail-in voting, can culminate in the slower release of results. For example, in 2020, Delaware had counted 90 percent of its votes in about two hours after the polls closed. In contrast, Alaska’s results weren’t confirmed until several weeks after Election Day. Due to its size and inconsistent mail service, Alaska counts mail-in ballots that were postmarked by Election Day but received up to 10 days after. Eighteen other states similarly count mail-in ballots returned within a certain window after Election Day if mailed beforehand.
After the 2022 midterms, all eyes were on Arizona and Nevada. These two states — with highly competitive races — were mocked on social media for their slow pace, with far-right candidates like Mark Finchem and Kari Lake insinuating nefarious motives by election administrators. However, in Arizona, many voters dropped off mail-in ballots at a vote center or drop box up to and on Election Day; certain counties also adopted more rigorous signature verification and scanning procedures. Additionally, when races are extremely close — as they are recently in Arizona, but not historically — the media isn’t able to project the results as early. In Nevada, a high number of voters took advantage of universal mail-in voting, an option enacted in the Silver State in 2021.
FACT: Drop boxes are a secure, commonsense tool for voting.
MYTH: Drop boxes encourage election fraud and ballot harvesting.
Drop boxes are secure containers designed for voters to drop off their completed mail-in ballots. These safe metal containers have been around for years, but with more Americans voting by mail during a public health crisis in 2020, drop boxes became even more widespread and consequently, the target of a Republican attack led by former President Donald Trump.
For voters concerned about delays with the U.S. Postal Service, drop boxes are a convenient alternative. The 24/7 hours can be beneficial for voters who can’t make it to an elections office during limited hours of operation. A study by the Associated Press confirmed that there were no major issues with drop boxes in 2020: “None of the election offices in states that allowed the use of drop boxes in 2020 reported any instances in which the boxes were connected to voter fraud or stolen ballots. Likewise, none reported incidents in which the boxes or ballots were damaged to the extent that election results would have been affected.”
Implicated in the use of drop boxes is a legitimate practice where individuals — sometimes constrained to family members — can return another voter’s signed and sealed ballot on the voter’s behalf. This is pejoratively called “ballot harvesting.” Over 30 states have guidelines on third-party ballot collection and Alabama is the only state that specifies that the voter, and the voter alone, can return their ballot. In contrast to the widely-debunked “2000 Mules” film — which inspired drop box vigilantes intimidating voters this year in Arizona — there are many legitimate, legal reasons why one individual may return several ballots to a drop box.
FACT: The 2022 midterms showed that voters rejected anti-democratic candidates, but significant challenges remain.
MYTH: The most extreme candidates lost in key states, so our democracy is fine.
In the 2022 midterms, 13 of 14 “America First” far-right secretary of state candidates lost their races. In other key positions across the country, extreme candidates who made the “Big Lie” central to their platform also lost. Many of them conceded. Is democracy saved? Is the acute crisis of Trump’s claim of a stolen 2020 election over?
Not so fast. Trump and his allies remain influential in the Republican Party. And despite defeat of the most high profile candidates, election deniers did prevail in Alabama, Idaho, Ohio, Wyoming and elsewhere. Long-term, structural challenges to our democracy also remain. As states have pushed restrictive voting laws and unfair district maps across the country, the U.S. Supreme Court continues to tear down democracy’s safeguards. The landmark Voting Rights Act might be further weakened by the end of this year’s term. In another case, the Court could embrace a fringe theory that would allow state legislatures to set election laws with impunity.