Dane County looks for new ways to combat misinformation ahead of the 2024 elections

Dane County looks for new ways to combat misinformation ahead of the 2024 elections

It’s been three years since a victor was crowned in the 2020 presidential election, yet despite widespread evidence that no voter fraud took place, people in communities across the U.S. still debate the election’s validity. 

Dane County is no exception.

As it currently stands, roughly 30% of Americans still believe President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election was due to widespread voter fraud, despite little evidence to back such claims. Dane County found itself at the heart of these claims, as the Trump campaign petitioned the Wisconsin Supreme Court to throw out nearly 220,000 ballots in Dane County and Milwaukee County that it falsely deemed to be invalid.

As a result, the misinformation surrounding elections in the U.S. has been growing in recent years, with state legislatures across the country buying into the idea of widespread voter fraud. 

This has been the case in the Dairy State, where many in Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature promote not only misinformation surrounding the 2020 election but argue for new policies that will make voting even harder in this swing state. The state Senate recently voted to oust Wisconsin’s Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe, justifying the move by using false information surrounding the 2020 election. 

Despite these challenges, several organizations across the Dane County area are taking on initiatives to help grow media literacy within one of Wisconsin’s most populous counties. 

The speed with which misinformation can be spread on social media and the internet has left many unsure of who or where they can find factual information, especially around election season, according to Eileen Newcomer of the League of Women’s Voters. 

“I think one of the biggest impacts [of misinformation] has been just a general distrust of the system, and people being unsure of where to find correct information and feeling they don’t know who to trust when it comes to the results of elections,” said Eileen Newcomer, the voter education manager for the League of Women’s Voters of Wisconsin.

This doubt in the Wisconsin election process has become yet another issue that has divided Republicans and Democrats in the state, as Republicans have been far more skeptical of Wisconsin’s democratic process than Democrats.

“I don’t see that doubt among people who are likely to vote for a Democratic candidate,” said Alexia Sabor, chair of the Democratic Party of Dane County. “I’ve spoken with municipal clerks all throughout the county, and they are uniformly confident that elections are being held fairly and are extremely secure.”

This partisan divide over the 2020 election results has held true even three years after the election, as a recent CNN Poll found that 69% of Republicans still believe voter fraud occurred in the last presidential election.

Despite widespread efforts to slow the spread of misinformation, doing so has proved difficult particularly on social media apps such as X (formerly Twitter) and Facebook. Much of this information is spreading faster than ever, and getting harder to spot. 

The League of Women’s Voters has focused on quelling the spread of misinformation across the state. The group actively tracks the new trends in misinformation to ensure the organization provides voters with accurate information surrounding voting in Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin is a unique state, we have our elections run at the municipal level and not the county level, so it really is our neighbors serving as the municipal clerks,” Newcomer said. “So if you trust your neighbor, and you trust your friend, you should be able to trust our elections.”

Another way in which the league has worked to help ease concerns around voter fraud is its election observer program, which currently serves as the largest nonpartisan election observer program in the state.

The program recruits and trains volunteers in proper vote-counting procedures, who are then dispatched to clerks’ offices across the state to ensure not only that votes are being counted properly, but also to look for best practices for other local clerks’ offices to adopt as well. 

However, while many efforts have been made to prove Wisconsin elections are accurate, creating a more media literate community is equally important in stopping the spread of misinformation.

According to Sam Molzahn, a librarian and the current lead instructor of “That’s Fake News! The Library’s Role in Addressing Misinformation in Your Community,” a continuing education course offered by the School of Information at UW–Madison, libraries play an integral role in stopping the spread of misinformation, serving as communal hubs for citizens to gather reliable information on a variety of topics.

Molzahn hopes his new course will help to not only promote more media literacy in the community today, but in the next generation as well, as he views students as a vital part of stopping the spread of misinformation in the future.

“Spreading media literacy and really just taking time to understand the material they are reading will be huge going forward,” Molzahn said.

Polling location by the Capitol. Photo provided by Madison Commons Photo Archive.

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