We might not know who won Pennsylvania until the end of the week. That leaves a lot of time for misinformation to spread like wildfire — and help Republicans create the impression the election was “stolen” from them.
Thanks to a Supreme Court decision, the state’s 2.5 million mail-in ballots can be counted if they arrive by Friday, provided they’re postmarked by Tuesday. That deadline was extended to accommodate voters concerned about the coronavirus pandemic.
Here’s the problem. Pennsylvania is the target of a flood of misinformation. Twitter labeled an Election Day tweet from Mike Roman, Trump’s director of election day operations, as possibly misleading. The Philadelphia District Attorney’s office called another one of his tweets “deliberately deceptive.”
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. A tweet from a self-described “activist” and “investor” also went viral. It contained a screenshot of an Instagram story from someone claiming to be a poll worker in Erie County, who said they threw away 100 ballots for Donald Trump. PolitiFact and several journalists looked into it and found he wasn’t a poll worker at all.
Trump has already claimed the election is being rigged against him. His supporters are doing the same, especially when it comes to Pennsylvania.
The founder of what the Southern Poverty Law Center deemed a hate group tweeted to more than 290,000 followers that “Pennsylvania is very sketchy” and that the Supreme Court “may have to eventually get involved.” Roman claimed the election was being stolen “in broad daylight.”
Their message is clear: Democrats are trying to steal a victory. It’s a narrative that Trump could push hard if we see a “red mirage” — an early Trump lead that erodes as mail-in votes for former Vice President Joe Biden are counted.
In what a local official deemed highly unusual, the Trump campaign asked several Pennsylvania counties for “sensitive election security information,” according to NBC News. It could be a sign of a bitter battle to come. There’s no reason to believe it won’t try to invalidate votes in the state, especially if right-wing media pushes the narrative that something shady was happening on Election Day.
The media needs to make it clear that the Pennsylvania race isn’t over until all the votes are counted. Hyping early results makes it easier for Trump to claim the state — and possibly the entire election — was stolen from him.