Misinformation Overwhelms Local Election Officials

The morning after last month’s presidential debate, the phones inside the Philadelphia election offices that Al Schmidt helps oversee rang off the hook.

One caller asked whether President Trump’s comments hinting at rampant voter fraud in Philadelphia were true. Another yelled about the inaccurate rumor that poll watchers were being barred from polling places. Still another demanded to know what the city was trying to hide.

It was just another day at the office for Mr. Schmidt, one of Philadelphia’s three city commissioners, a job that includes supervising voter registration and elections. Hundreds of people have called in every day for months, many parroting conspiracy theories about the election and lies about how partisan megadonors own the voting machines. Staff members spend hours shooting down the rumors, he said.

“It’s not like we have tens of millions of dollars to spend on communications to battle tsunamis of misinformation that come our way,” said Mr. Schmidt, 49, whose team has been working up to 17-hour days ahead of Election Day on Tuesday. “It wears on all of us.”

Election officials across the country are already stretched thin this year, dealing with a record number of mail-in ballots and other effects of the coronavirus pandemic. On top of that, many are battling another scourge: misinformation.

Fueled by inaccurate comments from Mr. Trump and others, election lies have spread across social media. They include claims that Black Lives Matter protesters incited violence at polling places, that mail-in ballots were dumped, that ballot boxes and voting machines were compromised, and that ballots were “harvested,” or collected and dropped off

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