Secretary of state: Active effort must counter election lies
Secretary of State Shemia Fagan says she and elections officials plan a public information campaign to avert misinformation like the falsehood that the 2020 election was stolen.
Fagan says election deniers — which account for up to one-third in Oregon samples, particularly half of Republicans — have swamped her office and Oregon's 36 counties with requests for public records in attempts to show widespread fraud that is nonexistent.
"Nearly two years after the last presidential election, we continue to see false information about the results of that election. We have seen, both in Oregon and across the country, the result of false information and the consequences," Fagan told reporters in a video briefing Sept. 19.
"In recent weeks we have seen an influx of public records requests, still based on the big lie that the 2020 election was stolen. But in that environment, we are still doing everything we can to build trust."
She said she is looking at ways for officials to respond to legitimate requests for public records while they discourage requests that are so extensive they cannot be fulfilled, let alone paid for.
Fagan said she soon will have visited elections offices in all 36 counties. Most are overseen by elected county clerks. In Multnomah and Washington counties, they are appointed officials.
In 2020, Democrat Joe Biden beat Republican incumbent Donald Trump for the presidency by 16 percentage points in Oregon. Trump also lost to Democrat Hillary Clinton in Oregon in 2016 by 11 percentage points.
Oregon's 36 counties conduct the actual elections, which have been held by mail since 2000. The secretary of state is the chief elections officer.
Fagan did intervene after the May 17 primary election in Clackamas County, where faulty printed bar codes compelled hand duplication of thousands of ballots. The county bore the extra expense and staffing, but Fagan did order a more extensive post-election audit for Clackamas County along with the regular post-election audits required of all counties. The special audit confirmed that the counts were accurate despite some minor discrepancies.
Fagan, a Democrat, was elected in November 2020 to succeed Republican appointee Bev Clarno, who was named to the job in March 2019 after the death of Dennis Richardson. It was Clarno who certified Oregon's 2020 election results on Dec. 8.
"False information is a real threat," Fagan said. "False information about elections is a threat to our democracy."
Fagan said her office has taken three steps:
• Public service announcements. Fagan said they were particularly effective in spreading the word that ballots postmarked by election day (and received by elections officials up to seven days afterward) now count in Oregon. The Legislature made the change in 2021, effective this year. "We didn't see any vast misinformation or disinformation about that," Fagan said.
Fagan said that in the two months before the 2018 primary, oregonvotes.gov got about 18,000 unique viewers on such topics as voter registration. In the comparable period before the May 17 primary, that total was 121,000.
• Partnerships with the Oregon Association of County Clerks and about 30 other organizations to offer valid information and counteract misinformation. "We are actively monitoring false information narratives and responding with public messaging and support for county clerks' offices in real time," Fagan said.
• In cooperation with the National Association of Secretaries of State, a national public information campaign will be launched under #trustedinfo2022.
Deborah Scroggin, director of the state Elections Division, said the 2020 election was among the five top falsehoods. Others:
• Mail voting cannot be trusted, even though Oregon has used it in statewide elections going back to 2000, and has authorized its use as far back as 1981. Voter signatures are checked against a database maintained by the counties and state.
• Machine tabulations are fraudulent, even though counties have used optical-scanning equipment for almost 20 years. (A few counties still used punch cards until Congress passed the Help America Vote Act in 2002 in the aftermath of the presidential election fiasco two years earlier in Florida. Federal grants enabled those counties to buy new machines.)
• Election information is awash on the Internet, though it's not always reliable.
• Ballot boxes are not secure, although most drop boxes for Oregon elections are in government buildings.
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