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Your guide to spotting election misinformation

Plus, independent voters want access to Pa.'s partisan primaries.

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

April 28, 2022 | spotlightpa.org
Campaign cash, indie voters, debate recap, disinformation tips, missing bridges, abuse report, box costs, coal power, and QAnon event.
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Independent voters in Pennsylvania now number more than 1 million and account for 15% of all registered voters in the state.

But because of the state's closed primary system, they are shut out of casting a primary ballot for key positions like governor and U.S. senator. Kate Huangpu reports on a push to change that and its odds of succeeding

Also this week, Angela Couloumbis has a deep dive on Josh Shapiro's campaign cash. The only Democrat running for governor, Shapiro has raised nearly $18 million in campaign contributions over the past 15 months  — more than all nine of his potential Republican opponents combined.

Finally, Spotlight PA hosted two U.S. Senate debates: one with the four Democratic candidates on Monday, and one with five of the seven GOP candidates on Tuesday. Here's a roundup of coverage.
Help Spotlight PA end April strong by investing in vital local journalism.

With the primary around the corner, Spotlight PA is producing tons of voter-centric, nonpartisan stories and resources to help you make up your mind at the polls. That includes hosting three prime-time debates among gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates this past week.

We make all of this work available to everyone at no cost. But we can only continue this vital public service with your support. Give now.
"I can’t bring myself to be painted in a partisan lens."

—Diana Dakey of Lackawanna County explains why she's an independent and why she believes they should be allowed to vote in partisan primaries
» PRIMARY PRIMER: Join us Thursday, May 5 at 6 p.m. via Zoom for a free Q&A on Pennsylvania's candidates for governor, how they plan to lead, and how to spot misinformation. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
» Your guide to the Democratic and GOP candidates for governor

» A guide to the often-overlooked race for Pa. lieutenant governor

» Big donations to GOP guv candidates: Who gave and how much?

» Josh Shapiro is amassing a big war chest. Who gave and how much?

» WATCH: Spotlight PA GOP governor candidates debate

» WATCH: Spotlight PA GOP U.S. Senate candidates debate 

» WATCH: Spotlight PA DEM U.S. Senate candidates debate

» Tell Spotlight PA what election coverage matters the most to you

» Pennsylvania’s 2022 U.S. Senate race: What we know so far
» To successfully use Pennsylvania’s ‘compassionate release’ law, he had to choose to die

» Spotlight PA wants your help flagging school health hazards
Q&A: How to spot election disinformation

In less than three weeks, Pennsylvanians will vote in party primaries for several offices, including governor, lieutenant governor, and U.S. Senate. Over the past several election cycles, disinformation has permeated politics at all levels, undermining local and national races. So how do you spot when a candidate is lying? We talked to Mekela Panditharatne, counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy program, about disinformation and what you can do to detect it. Ethan Edward Coston, Spotlight PA

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What is disinformation and misinformation, and what danger does it pose, especially during an election?

Misinformation is false or misleading information spread regardless of intent. Disinformation is a subset of misinformation spread with an intent to deceive. 

Bad actors can share disinformation with the intent to deceptively trick people out of voting, or to sow cynicism and distrust in the electoral process. Election misinformation, while not always intentional, can have similar pernicious effects.

Q: As we head into primary season for the 2022 midterm elections, what disinformation are you seeing spread?

After the 2020 election, our democracy continues to be marred by the big lie — baseless claims that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen.” As a result, disinformation has become a key theme in races for election administration offices across the country.

Other kinds of dis- and misinformation can be linked to an astonishing spate of new restrictive voting laws. These laws are reinforcing the proliferation of false claims of widespread voter fraud, while undermining the integrity of mail voting and vote-counting processes.

Q: What can voters do to spot disinformation?

Be thoughtful, vigilant, and take your time. Seek accurate information from authoritative and trustworthy sources including your local election officials, state and local agencies, the National Association of Secretaries of State, and the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s “Rumor Control” webpage.

Be cautious about claims that are presented in an alarmist or emotionally charged way — these are claims that may be manipulative. Refer to independent fact-checking websites such as PolitiFact to assess the accuracy of claims. Keep an eye out for indicators of malignant activity from trolls and bots. 

Q: What can an average person do to stop disinformation from spreading?

Refrain from amplifying false and misleading messages about the election. If you encounter disinformation online, report it to the social media platform or search engine where the disinformation was hosted, and consider connecting directly with friends and family exposed to disinformation to let them know that it is false.

Q: There's a lot of misinformation spreading about election security and the validity of different methods of voting, like mail-in ballots. What are the most important things voters need to know about election security?

Widespread voter fraud is exceedingly rare. Many protections exist to ensure the integrity of the electoral process. Nearly 160 million Americans voted in 2020 — and 46% of those voters used mail ballots. Despite a deluge of election disinformation, the 2020 election was “the most secure election in American history,” according to the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

MISSING BRIDGES: Now-secret memos written by bridge inspectors were removed from PennDOT's public database after the collapse of Pittsburgh's Fern Hollow Bridge in January — a span first rated "poor" by inspectors years earlier. The Post-Gazette downloaded the memos for thousands of bridges before the notes were removed and has published them for all to see, saying "the public has a right to know."

CARBON FRAY: The owners of coal-fired power plants, coal mines, and labor unions have sued to block the Wolf administration's newly enacted carbon fee on power plant emissions, the AP reports. The regulation took effect on Saturday, making Pennsylvania the first major fossil-fuel state to adopt such a policy. But the lawsuit says the fee is, in essence, an illegal tax because it was imposed without legislative approval.

QANON RISING: A frontrunner in the Republican race for governor spent last weekend at a far-right Christian conference in Gettysburg that was soaked in QAnon conspiracy theories. The Inquirer reports state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) and LG hopeful Teddy Daniels were both at the "Patriots Arise" event, which included this video referencing child sacrifice, satanic blood cults, and labeling 9/11 as a false flag attack.

SCATHING REPORT: The Philly agency responsible for keeping children safe from abuse is itself guilty of separating families without cause, punishing domestic abuse victims, and perpetuating systemic bias in both race and class, a scathing report detailed by Broke in Philly found. The report, issued by a City Council committee, is driving calls for wholesale changes at the city's Department of Human Services. 

BOX BLOCKS: Westmoreland County is scaling back drop boxes and will offer just one to voters this year, saying costs, not politics, are behind the move, via TribLIVE. The county had at least six drop boxes in place in 2020. A similar rollback was seen in Lancaster County, where Republican officials removed the only drop box serving 344,000 voters. In Harrisburg, GOP lawmakers want to rein in the option statewide.


» CHALKBEAT: Study used in landmark school funding trial was wrong

» DAILY AMERICAN: Suspended Somerset Co. DA jailed on new charges

» NBC NEWS: Frontrunner's armed encounter looms over Dem primary

» LNP: ACLU sues Lancaster Co., judges over 'unconstitutional' bail 

» POLITICO: Oz says 'We cannot move on' from the 2020 election

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

CAT AND MOUSE (Case No. 144)If five cats can collectively catch five mice in five minutes, how long will it take one cat to catch one mouse?

Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: Yes, a married person is looking at an unmarried person. (Find last week's clue here)
Congrats to Fred H., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Susan N.-Z., Philip C., Michael H., Fred O., Annette I., George S., Beth T., Johnny C., Seth Z., Mary B., and Lou R.
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