Election Day is coming, and a lot of people are stressed out about it. They are stressed out about the outcome, and stressed out about the possibility that we might not know the outcome.
Election officials are worried that "all hopped up" is no condition for a country to be in if you want a peaceful transfer of power, or a continuation of it. It makes us susceptible to false information, which can take on a life of its own. We are dry tinder for a rumor brushfire.
And there are a lot of people playing with matches. Foreign adversaries and domestic agents of chaos are looking for opportunities for mayhem. The president has been consistently sowing doubt, saying he'd only lose if there was fraud (though fraud on a scale sufficient to swing an election is as likely as me being hit by lightning, twice).
Just days ago, the president tried to deceive voters by suggesting if there is not a final vote tally on Election Day, it will be because there has been mischief.
There has never been a final vote on Election Day.
Even in the best of times, the American voting process is rickety – long lines, bad machines, voter suppression, and a verification system of signature matching that feels like a relic of the carbon copy era.
But officials tallying the votes worry about disinformation as much (or more) than they do problems with the actual vote. Unfounded rumors about cheating stain the outcome. That weakens the winner's ability to do his job.
"Of all the virus that attack the vulnerable nerve tissues of a nation at war, rumor is the most malignant," wrote Life magazine in 1942. During World War II, Franklin Roosevelt's administration attacked rumors like a public health crisis because they undermined national unity.
Today, at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, they're making a similar push against rumors. "The last line of defense in election security is you," said its director, Chris Krebs.
Officials at all levels of government advise this for Election Day:
- Don't pass along every outrage.
- Listen to sources you trust.
- Don't mistake delays for wrongdoing.
We've been meeting here like this each Sunday for the last six weeks, and now the election is upon us. My last message before the results are in? Be patient.
Story produced by Ed Forgotson. Editor: Chad Cardin.