Arizona remains epicenter of election misinformation

UNITED STATES.- Arizona remained the epicenter of post-election misinformation on Thursday as vote counting continued in the state.

Many of the misleading claims circulating two days after the election centered around printing problems that prevented vote counters from reading some of the ballots. The problem sparked conspiracy theories about vote rigging that spread despite explanations from local officials and assurances that all votes would be counted.

The rumors spread in part because people had legitimate questions about problems at the polls, said University of Washington professor Kate Starbird, an expert on disinformation and part of the Election Integrity Partnership, a nonpartisan research group.

“The problem occurs when your audiences take that with this assumed implication of fraud,” Starbird said. “It is taken and interpreted as electoral fraud as it spreads.”

Fake news in other states added to the misinformation circulating on the internet after the elections. In some cases, far-right candidates and groups amplified them to try to explain their losses.

A video on Fox News showed a Wisconsin poll worker initialing ballots before handing them out to voters. It is a normal procedure during election day.

But on Tuesday someone posted the video on social media, claiming instead that it showed a Philadelphia poll worker tampering with ballots.

That falsehood quickly spread on radical websites popular with supporters of former President Donald Trump and was amplified by prominent right-wing figures like Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser in the Trump administration.

“Masked man cheating in front of the cameras of the conventional press,” said one of the messages that contained the video, which called on users to repeat it.

Much of the misinformation in Pennsylvania since Election Day has focused on misleading explanations about how long it takes to count votes.

The United States has a long history of political contests that go undecided on Election Day, and those occasional delays have increased in recent years with the growing popularity of mail-in voting. In battleground states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Arizona, election officials can’t start counting mail-in ballots until voting day, guaranteeing delays.

Arizona and Pennsylvania were featured prominently in conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election, and again this year, thanks in part to Republican gubernatorial candidates who have pushed false claims about the most recent election.