Election 2008, Web-style

More Stories in this Series

Election Deception: The Web's 12 Dirtiest Tricks

Part 2: Seven Most Malicious Political Messages on the Web

From the media to the messages, we now switch gears to consider the seven biggest election-related lies currently circulating around the Web.

1. You Might Get Arrested for Showing Up at the Polls.

One of the hottest and most misleading rumors is that undercover officers will be staking out polling sites to apprehend people against whom the government has outstanding arrest warrants, or even records of unpaid traffic tickets. It couldn't be more untrue.

2. You Can't Vote If You're Facing Home Foreclosure.

The notion that having your home in foreclosure may bar you from voting has been spreading fast and far. One Web site even quoted a Republican Party official in Michigan as confirming it. The official denied that any such restriction exists, and voter eligibility laws concur: The status of your home is not connected to your right to vote.

3. Out-of-State College Students Can't Vote Where They Go to School.

This rumor is specific to students who attend college out-of-state or in another city but continue to be listed as dependents on their parent's income tax returns. A freewheeling "misinterpretation" of election law led to this unfounded claim. Rest assured, students, that the correct answer here is "false."

4. Wearing Political Buttons or Shirts Could Get You Turned Away on Election Day.

E-mail broadsides have spread this rumor, but it seriously misrepresents the actual situation. Most states permit voters to wear whatever they want to the voting booth, as long as they aren't distributing campaign materials inside the polling place. A handful of states disallow campaign-related clothing. But even in those states, poll workers wouldn't remove you from the voting rolls if you showed up decked out in your partisan regalia. They'd simply ask you to cover the logo or turn the shirt inside out--or at worst to go home and change into something a little more secret-ballot-friendly.

5. Your Polling Place or the Election Date Has Changed.

This is a classic keep-the-enemy-home-on-election-day strategy--and any such election-eve switcheroo is highly unlikely to be authentic. If you receive an e-mail message, text message, or phone call in the run-up to November 4 stating that the voting date or your polling place has changed, call your the office of your local supervisor of elections directly to confirm the information before changing your voting plans.

6. You Can Vote Over the Phone.

Phone-based campaigns, quite possibly VoIP-powered, are propagating this myth in an effort to prevent people from going to the polls. Hang up on the call, and hang this harmful lie out to dry.

7. If the Names on Your Driver's License and on Your Voter Registration Card Don't Match Exactly, You Can't Vote.

Another false factoid. Different states have different requirements, but none would deny you the right to vote over this type of data inconsistency. At worst, you'd be asked to cast a provisional ballot and then straighten things out the following day.

Crime and Punishment

Lillie Coney, Electronic Privacy Informatuion Center
"One of the things about the Internet is that there are no traffic cops--there's no authority to verify the identity of those who are communicating with each other online," says EPIC's Lillie Coney.

Separating fact from fiction might seem simple, but even the most tech-savvy people are seeing surprises this election season. Information is power, however, and recognizing misused methods and malicious messages for what they are is your strongest armor against the web of lies.

Voter-rights advocates say that the dirty tricks they're seeing aren't honest mistakes, and some are calling for laws that classify Web-driven deceit as a crime, with full enforcement provisions. "They usually are malicious, clearly malicious," says Tova Wang of Common Cause. "We think that law enforcement should make it clear that these acts will be treated seriously and prosecuted."

In the meantime, you can fight back by not falling for these shenanigans and by making sure that your friends and family are equally well informed. After all, every vote can count only if every vote can be cast.

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