Iowa secretary of State disputes viral misinformation about voter registration

Iowa secretary of State disputes viral misinformation about voter registration
© Greg Nash

Iowa's Republican secretary of State is disputing a viral claim from a Washington, D.C.-based conservative group in an attempt to kneecap the spread of election-related misinformation ahead of the Iowa caucuses on Monday night. 

In a press release, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said the group, Judicial Watch, is feeding a "misinformation campaign" as its leaders and followers continue to spread a debunked report that alleges eight Iowa counties have total registration rates larger than their eligible voting population. 

"It’s unfortunate this organization continues to put out inaccurate data regarding voter registration, and it’s especially disconcerting they chose the day of the Iowa Caucus to do this,” Pate said in a statement.

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"My office has told this organization, and others who have made similar claims, that their data regarding Iowa is deeply flawed and their false claims erode voter confidence in elections," he added. "They should stop this misinformation campaign immediately and quit trying to disenfranchise Iowa voters." 

Judicial Watch did not immediately respond to The Hill's request for comment.

As of Monday afternoon, the false claim from Judicial Watch had gone viral across multiple social media platforms, garnering tens of thousands of likes and retweets on Twitter and over 8,000 shares on Facebook.

The episode emerges as campaign officials and top tech companies — including teams with the Democratic National Committee, Facebook and Twitter — pour new resources into identifying and removing election-related misinformation, a top priority as the 2020 presidential election cycle kicks off in earnest this week. 

The report from Judicial Watch, which election experts said misrepresented census data and failed to account for population growth, was shared throughout Sunday and Monday by popular right-wing figures.

On Facebook, Judicial Watch's post touting the report received almost 9,000 shares and over 2,000 comments.

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"WOW," tweeted conservative activist Charlie Kirk, to an audience of 1.5 million followers. "One day before the Iowa Caucus, it’s been revealed that EIGHT Iowa counties have more adults registered to vote than voting-aged adults living there Don’t let voter fraud steal the 2020 election RT for national Voter ID!" As of Monday afternoon, the tweet had received over 56,000 likes and almost 40,000 retweets.

A Twitter spokesperson in a statement said the tweets are not a violation of the platform's rules against election interference.

"The Tweet you referenced is not in violation of our election integrity policy as it does not suppress voter turnout or mislead people about when, where, or how to vote," the spokesperson said.

Just last week, Twitter unveiled a feature allowing users to flag posts they believe contain misinformation about elections ahead of November.

When a user tries to report a post for election-related misinformation, they are met with a pop-up that asks: "How is [this tweet] misleading about a political election?"

Three options are then given for a particular tweet's removal: "it has false information about where or how to vote or register to vote," "it intends to suppress or intimidate someone from voting," or "it is misrepresenting" its affiliation with a political entity.

The tech companies have faced competing pressures as Democrats push for them to remove any political misinformation from their platforms while conservatives have railed against them for alleged "anti-conservative bias."

There's little evidence to substantiate claims that the social media platforms routinely censor right-wing voices, but party leaders including President TrumpDonald John TrumpMinneapolis erupts for third night, as protests spread, Trump vows retaliation Stocks open mixed ahead of Trump briefing on China The island that can save America MORE have touted the line as they aggressively press companies including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to keep up more posts from conservatives. 

Updated at 3:21 p.m.