Which states have seen the highest volume of viral misinformation about voting by mail this election season? Those that are most in play between President Trump and Joseph R. Biden Jr., according to new data.
People in several battleground states, which are likely to decide the presidential race, saw the most distortions and falsehoods about voting by mail between Sept. 1 and Oct. 29, according to Zignal Labs, a media insights company that tallied the likely misinformation mentions across online news outlets, cable television, print and social media. Many of the lies originated after mail-in ballots were sent incorrectly in those states, Zignal found, which then led to false claims that the ballots had been tampered with and questions about the reliability of the vote.
Of the 1.1 million total voting-by-mail falsehoods that Zignal tallied, Pennsylvania topped the list with 227,907 of them — or more than double the next state on the list.
Many of the misinformation mentions in Pennsylvania started after a federal prosecutor there said on Sept. 24 that a small number of military ballots had been “discarded” in Luzerne County, including ballots cast for Mr. Trump. The county later said the ballots, which were found in a trash bin, had been incorrectly thrown away by a contractor, who was let go after the incident. But the announcement was then twisted — including by Mr. Trump — as evidence of voter fraud in the state.
Pennsylvania, which Mr. Trump won by less than one percentage point in 2016, has been a heavy focus of the Republican and Democratic presidential campaigns. The state has 20 Electoral College votes to give, the most of any battleground state except for Florida, which has 29.
Of the other states that saw high volumes of voting-by-mail misinformation, Ohio was second with 89,996 such mentions, Zignal found. Third was Texas, with 68,005 mentions, Zignal said. Ohio and Texas are also considered swing states.
Other states that are not considered swing states also saw lies about voting by mail, though to a lesser degree. New York had 38,557 such mentions and California, where state Republicans were ordered to remove private ballot collection containers marked as “official” drop boxes, saw 29,030 misinformation mentions, Zignal said.
For the other states, see the full tally here.
Lisa Kaplan, the founder of Alethea Group, a company that helps fight election-related misinformation, said the flood of falsehoods was undermining faith in democracy.
“Voter fraud is incredibly rare,” Ms. Kaplan said. “But nefarious actors are distorting reality.” She added that the ultimate effect was “that the electorate is the collateral damage.”