Experts warn how to spot, respond to voter misinformation, intimidation

MADISON, Wis. — There are laws in place to protect your rights at the polls in Wisconsin.

“If anybody uses force or threatens to use force to prevent someone from voting, or if anybody tries to put someone in a state of duress to prevent them from voting, that’s a felony in Wisconsin,” said Attorney General Josh Kaul.

Kaul said poll workers will be on the lookout for that on Election Day. Experts at the Southern Poverty Law Center say in battleground states like Wisconsin, intimidation is more likely to happen.

“We do expect to see armed militia groups before, during and after the elections,” said SPLC’s Senior Research Analyst Cassie Miller. “The places we are most likely to see extremist activity are battleground states.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center brought awareness to voter intimidation and misinformation hoping not to alarm, but to inform.

The SPLC’s website maps out where hate groups exist nationwide. Here in Wisconsin, there are about 15; most of them in the Milwaukee area.

The organization advises that if you are at the polls on election day and see someone or a group trying to intimidate, alert the chief inspector at the polling site. If the situation does not settle, contact police and report it to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

But the SPLC has an even bigger concern before Election Day: misinformation. This is something that UW Madison professor and expert on election integrity Young Mei Kim is concerned about too, especially when it comes to misinformation about fraud surrounding mail-in ballots.

“Research consistently shows that the mail-in voting does not have voter fraud. There is no evidence,” Kim said.

Kim has studied election integrity for five years.  She said through her research, she’s found it’s mostly non-white voters who face the biggest challenges leading up to Election Day.

“Non-white voters in battleground states receive almost 10 times more voter suppression messages compared to white voters in non-battleground states in 2016,” she said.

The ACLU found people of color are more likely to vote by mail than white voters. Kim said she’s also found through her research that people of color are more likely to have their mail-in ballots invalidated compared to white voters who send their ballots by mail.

With so many absentee ballots to count this year, the SPLC’s Deputy Legal Director Nancy Abudu said they are paying even closer attention to this election.

“What we are committed to doing is that every vote is counted and if there is any effort by state officials or other bodies to stop the count, especially when we know there are so many outstanding that could make a difference, we are going to be involved in opposing that in some way,” Abudu said.