Educators battle misinformation in run-up to November election

A voting location
File photo of a voting location from Wikimedia Commons by Tom Arthur.

We are living in the age of fake news. No, not the “deep state is out to get the president” kind. The real “fake news” is all around us, spreading partially by word of mouth and at certain political rallies, and much more so on Facebook and Instagram, as people pass along rumors and myths that fit their world view. 

So what?  

Well, for one thing, it is frustrating. As educators, we teach facts — the laws of physics, the branches of government, grammar rules, math formulas — things that don’t change, no matter how you feel about them. More importantly, we teach critical thinking. It is a reflection of the era in which we live that the children in our classrooms can separate fact from fiction better than some adults. 

The widespread misinformation circulating among adults is threatening the foundation of our democracy. There is a chance a considerable number of Americans will not vote in the coming election or will cry foul over the results because of lies they have read online.  

To be clear, the long-standing method of absentee voting by mail is safe and secure, and any attempt to say otherwise is misinformation.

In one recent Facebook post I came across, a well-respected community leader falsely claimed that a) there was no way of ensuring that someone who votes by mail can’t also vote in person, b) ballots sent to wrong addresses based on voter records could be cast by the current resident, and c) someone who receives a ballot they shouldn’t have could cast a second vote for their candidate of choice if that candidate was behind in votes. 

None of this is true. 

Ohio keeps track of who requests absentee ballots and those voters are not allowed to vote on Election Day. If you requested an absentee ballot and still show up to vote in person — whether because you never received your ballot, never mailed your ballot or, as some would claim, you’re trying to vote a second time in the same election — you would need to cast a provisional paper ballot which goes through layers of verification before it is counted after Election Day. Any attempt to vote twice will be caught and that person would likely face prosecution.

Procedures in Ohio prevent ballots from being sent to the wrong addresses. Voters must submit an absentee ballot application by mail or in-person at their local board of elections. The absentee ballot application requires voters to provide their address, as well as their name, date of birth, and either their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their Social Security number. Each application is compared with voter registration records to ensure the person requesting the ballot is who they say they are and is eligible to vote. 

The notion that someone would cast a second ballot based on the current vote tally is ludicrous. While absentee ballots can be scanned into the system before Election Day in Ohio, they are not tabulated until polls close at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 3. Absentee ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 2.

It is worth noting, though, that ballots sent by the correct deadline will be accepted and counted up to ten days after Election Day to allow for delivery time. Because of the high volume of absentee ballots expected to be cast this year, we probably will not receive the full election results until at least mid-November. This does not mean the final, certified tally is not legitimate; it simply means every legitimate vote counts. 

Bottom line: For as long as there has been absentee voting, there have been safeguards in place to prevent fraud. Ohio has had no-fault absentee voting since the 2006 Gubernatorial Election, and members of both political parties have enjoyed using it since then. Incidents of voter fraud are exceedingly rare to the point of being essentially non-existent in Ohio, despite the calumny on the internet claiming otherwise.  

What is true is that there will be more absentee ballot applications and returns going through the mail this fall than usual because of safety concerns amid the global pandemic. Couple that with operational changes handed down from a political appointee who has vowed to run the U.S. Postal Service like a business, rather than the public service it was always intended to be, and it’s not hard not to envision delivery delays this election season.  

That makes it absolutely critical that you request and return your absentee ballot as early as possible, if you intend to vote by mail. 

You can apply now to receive a ballot in the first batch of mailings, which will go out Oct. 6. Fill it out and return it right away, taking care to fully complete the information on the ID envelope, which will again be compared with voter registration records to ensure no nonsense has occurred. Ballots can be returned by mail or in secure drop boxes provided by every county board of elections the state. 

Ohio will also offer four weeks of early in-person voting in every county, for those who do not want to contend with the process by mail but want to avoid long Election Day lines that could be COVID-19 hotbeds.

Ohio’s educators care deeply about ensuring free and fair elections. As a social studies teacher with three decades of experience, I’m alarmed by the current misinformation epidemic that will dissuade some Americans from casting their ballots and the resulting impact that will have on our system of government. 

No matter how you choose to vote – absentee by mail, early in-person, or on Nov. 3 — the most important thing is that you cast your ballot. Our democracy depends on it.