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How to address content that seeks to confuse voters and prevent them from voting

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  • There is a lot of electoral disinformation circulating in the region that confuses the voting days, the necessary documents, the ways to vote or even the number of candidates that can be elected.
  • Therefore, in this article we tell you how you can counteract the disinformation that seeks to confuse voters and prevent them from voting correctly in elections.
  • This article is part of a special with recommendations for journalists on how to cover the elections by Chequeado, IJNet, ICFJ and Factchequeado.

In the second round of Colombia’s 2022 elections, disinformation circulated stating that there would be two different voting dates, in an effort to avoid conflicts and simplify the ballot. 

Allegedly, a person’s voting day depended on which candidate they planned to support:  supporters of candidate #1 would vote on day 1 of the polls, and supporters of candidate #2 would vote on day 2. This was false.

Inaccurate information along these lines circulated in other countries in the region, too, such as Chile. When analyzing the election-related disinformation in the Americas in recent years, we can see just how similar the falsehoods tend to be in different countries.

It is essential, as a result, to pay attention to the nature of the disinformation that circulates in other countries’ elections. This can help better prepare journalists to address the falsehoods that may arise around the next elections they cover in their country.

Invalidating votes

And one of the aspects where there is a lot of disinformation – even some that may seem absurd – are those that seek to make the ballot null or challenge the votes of citizens.

Every country has different rules for nullifying or challenging a vote – that is, not counting it as valid. A lot of disinformation seeks to deceive citizens in efforts to invalidate their votes, or prevent them from casting them in the first place.

One recent example is false content that circulated in Mexico in 2018 stating that citizens could vote for more than one candidate. In reality, doing so would render their ballot invalid. Mexico presented a perfect breeding ground for this disinformation to sneak in to confuse voters, as the country’s ballot system lists all candidates, and the electoral institute had made recent changes allowing a person to manually write in the name of a candidate on the ballot.

In Argentina’s 2017 elections, a post circulated stating that on the day of the elections, you could request a special card to cast a vote against animal abuse. This was not true, and had in fact been debunked in other countries already where the disinformation had also circulated. Moreover, in Argentina, a person’s vote is invalidated if they include anything else in their voting envelope aside from their ballot. The actors spreading this disinformation used people’s interest in animal welfare to try to invalidate their votes without their knowledge.

Preventing votes from being cast

Disinformation around elections also seeks to prevent people from voting in the first place.

An example of this is a video that circulated in Colombia in 2018, which falsely put forth that people who had already voted for a candidate in the first round did not need to vote again in the second round because their vote was already registered.

Disinformation about the documentation required by electoral bodies to vote also spreads.This was especially important during the pandemic because many countries allowed voting with expired IDs or documentation due to the difficulties renewing them.

During the referendum for a new constitution in Chile in 2020, false content circulated claiming that voting with an expired ID was not allowed. In fact, new regulations did allow for this.

A lot of disinformation also attacks specific voting methods. In the case of the U.S., for example, in recent years, bad actors sought to undermine the integrity of the elections by questioning the legitimacy of mail-in voting. The method has been used for decades, and experts agree that it is secure.

While some disinformation may seem exceedingly blatant or absurd, it is important nonetheless to remain vigilant and debunk it should it go viral.

Many citizens are not closely familiar with how electoral systems work, and may only have contact with them on election days. This lack of understanding makes it easier for people to fall prey to disinformation narratives. Disinformers take advantage of this, spreading false information to manipulate voters.

Changes in legislation or voting procedures can further complicate the electoral process for citizens. Disinformers use this confusion to their advantage. 

Providing clear information about when to vote, how to do it, and what documentation is needed, can mitigate the confusion disinformation seeks to create, and help citizens properly cast their votes. 

For more information on electoral disinformation, visit PortalCheck


This resource is part of a toolkit on elections reporting and how to spot mis- and disinformation, produced by IJNet in partnership with Chequeado and Factchequeado, and supported by WhatsApp.

Fecha de publicación original: 31/07/2023



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