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American Opinion: Why spread lies about elections security?

From the editorial: It’s all crazy talk. But we’re hearing it way too much lately, often from people who know for sure that they are spreading lies, including the former president of the United

Signs outside the Early Voting Center at the Southwest Branch of the Orange County Public Library in Dr. Phillips, on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022.
Signs outside the Early Voting Center at the Southwest Branch of the Orange County Public Library in Dr. Phillips, on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022. (R
Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/TNS
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This is reality: Elections systems are as tamper-proof, as accountable, as transparent as they’ve ever been. Attempts at fraud are rare, and most — if not all — of them are speedily caught. The system is laden with checkpoints and security features. And most Floridians trust their local elections officials, keeping some of them on the job for decades.

But they can’t stop the crazy theories and stupid chatter. And they can’t force Florida officials to deal with the real threats to elections integrity, including torrents of underground money, shady tactics to trick voters and new laws that choke access to the easiest forms of voting.

Unfounded conspiracies

American Opinion
American Opinion
Tribune graphic / Forum News Service
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Among the nonsense theories floating around: Software that can “flip” votes from one candidate to another, or voting machines rigged to shred ballots. In a local restaurant, Orange County Supervisor Bill Cowles said he heard fellow diners describe (as fact) a plot to stuff bags of ballots into planes bound for Germany.
Others want you to believe a torrent of illicit votes are pouring into the system from felons, undocumented immigrants and people who died years ago.

The image being pushed portrays an American election system eaten up with fraud. Some believe it has already failed catastrophically, stealing the presidency from Donald Trump and handing it to Joe Biden.

It’s all crazy talk. But we’re hearing it way too much lately, often from people who know for sure that they are spreading lies, including the former president of the United States and the current governor of the Sunshine State.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis demanded that the Legislature create a new $1.1 million elections law enforcement agency to deal with the fraud that’s barely there. Thursday, the group announced 20 arrests — all of them people with felony convictions who weren’t eligible to have their voting rights restored, but who registered and voted anyway. As of now, we only have DeSantis’ word that they are guilty. If so, the current systems probably would have caught them anyway.

That’s hardly the kind of thing that should send faith in our elections systems crashing. Yet in some circles, it has.

Put up or shut up

Lake County Elections Supervisor Alan Hays spoke for many Floridians earlier this month, when he irritably confronted GOP leaders in his own county — and party. Responding to an email that went out on official Lake County Republican Executive Committee letterhead, which claimed that mail ballots were a big source of elections fraud, he said: “I am embarrassed as a Lake County citizen. I am insulted as the supervisor of elections. ... Nobody is going to get away with telling lies about my office and the people who work there and administer elections.”

In a March op-ed, Seminole Supervisor Chris Anderson agreed. “Everyone in our office’s priority is to ensure that your choice counts,” he wrote. And Cowles backed Hays’ outburst with descriptions of some of his ballot security measures — including the fact that ballot drop-off boxes and carriers are never out of sight of elections workers or sworn law enforcement officers. The ballots are opened and inspected in public sessions, and Cowles, like other supervisors, makes sure that the times and locations of those sessions are publicly available.

As The Orlando Sentinel’s Steve Lemongello reported Friday, a squad of operatives from the local GOP has been dogging Orange County’s elections offices recently, attending those public sessions and insisting that some ballots be thrown out. Like most efforts, they only identified a handful of potential violations among tens of thousands of ballots cast.

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What’s the end game?

We see three possible motives behind attempts to undermine perceptions of vote integrity.

The first is intimidation. Naming a new elections police force, and blaring accusations of fraud and wrongdoing, are clearly designed to intimidate low-income and minority voters who are already afraid of being charged with minor offenses. If so, it’s worth noting that most of the proven fraudsters are people who try to vote in their homes “up north” and in Florida.

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The next motive: Undermine confidence in the vote. That makes it easier to throw epic tantrums when a favored candidate loses. And it encourages a “why bother” attitude among the populace that makes them less likely to go to the polls.

Finally — and perhaps most important — there’s an obvious attempt to take attention off the reality that GOP officials are throwing up roadblocks to ballot access, such as a new law that makes obtaining absentee ballots more difficult. They are breaking down campaign finance laws that have unleashed floods of secret money, directed by nefarious motives, into the political system. They won’t tighten laws that allow campaigns to hoodwink voters.

Floridians deserve better. They deserve political parties who won’t try to trick them into wasting their votes, and they deserve leaders who won’t try to trick them into believing that elections aren’t trustworthy. We’re glad local elections officials are speaking out, and we hope they continue to do so.

In Seminole, a language dispute

It’s clearly too late to do anything for the Aug. 23 primary. But as soon as possible thereafter, there should be a meeting — and a meeting of minds — between Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Chris Anderson and a group of voting rights and advocacy groups who say the county still isn’t complying with requirements to provide adequate signage, printed material and other assistance in Spanish.

The groups, headed by All Voting Is Local Florida, include Hope CommUnity Center, La Mesa Boricua de Florida, Hispanic Federation, ACLU of Florida, LatinoJustice PRLDEF and Alianza Center. They first brought their concerns forward earlier this year. Now they are claiming that Seminole still needs many improvements to comply with the Voting Rights Act, which requires counties to provide all voting materials in any language spoken by 5% of the voters in that county. There are other conditions, but nobody’s disputing that Seminole County has passed all appropriate thresholds.

In a statement to the Sentinel, Anderson said he “meets and exceeds” the requirements of the law and has received “no voter-initiated complaints” about Spanish-language access. But it’s his responsibility to uphold the law, and the groups that have contacted him are speaking on behalf of Latinx voters and should be heard. Among their issues:

Spanish text on signs and in printed material isn’t the same size as English text.

  • Some parts of the elections website, including (as we observed for ourselves) the main navigation buttons on its homepage, don’t translate because they are images and not text.
  • Some Spanish prompts on the department’s phone line have English responses.

These sound like problems with easy fixes, and the advocacy groups say other area elections officials are in full compliance. Before the general election in November, let’s add Seminole County to that list.

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This American Opinion editorial is the view of the Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board.

©2022 Orlando Sentinel. Visit orlandosentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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