U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

November 5, 2022

Democracy on the Line

Dear Fellow Marylander,

We’re now down to the wire. Three days stand between our choice for the 118th Congress and a new Maryland governor – not to mention hundreds of other state and local races and numerous ballot questions for Maryland voters. You can look at your sample ballot here for more information on the candidates and ballot questions.

More than 344,000 Marylanders have already voted so far, but if you feel like you can’t just beat the original, in-person polling places will open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, November 8. You can even register to vote on Election Day if you haven’t done so already.

Over the years you may have become accustomed to a constant stream of commercials, fliers and signs that increase in frequency and intensity as Election Day draws nearer. But as technology and our political climate changes, so do the tactics of the people trying to in the hopes of manipulating your vote.

Not everyone is going to have your best interest at heart this election season. Let’s start with the global connector found in most of our pockets and homes – social media. Networking sites are young compared to our democracy, but the tactic of purposely spreading incorrect information is not. 

While visiting a site, use the ESCAPE method to discern if the source is reputable.  This will challenge you to question the information with five pillars in mind: evidence, source, context, audience, purpose and execution.

A quick way to tell if a website is legitimate is checking the address on your browser. Make sure there is a fastened lock on the left side of the address, no misspellings in the URL and the date of the domain makes sense considering its content. Websites will often link their social media accounts, which can also give you more insight about its reach and motives.

While major social media platforms like Twitter, Meta and TikTok have all made pledges to limit the spread of bad information, it is ultimately up to you. Learn the difference between opinion-commentary vs. fact-based news articles and make sure you aren’t mistaking satire as truth. It may sound silly, but it can be an easy error to make. Even taking a moment to think critically about your source is a form of “pre-debunking” that research has shown significantly improves confidence in elections.

It’s also important to note the difference between misinformation and disinformation. Some people in your life may unintentionally share faulty articles and sources because they themselves think it is true. That is called misinformation, and you can help   the spread.

Disinformation is much more sinister. This is when bad actors purposely fabricate statistics, quotes and chaos online and in-person. If you have any doubts about a claim, there are state and federal “Rumor Control” websites that identify common misconceptions about the 2022 election. In this election, particularly after the January 6 insurrection, I urge Marylanders to be especially on the lookout for so-called “election deniers” who only believe a vote is legitimate if their preferred candidate wins.  These individuals fundamentally do not believe in a peaceful transition of power after a free and fair election, which can lead to violence and the undermining of our very democracy and rule of law.

We saw this violence last week with the heinous attack on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul. This is unacceptable and we will not be intimidated into legitimizing lies.  

One of the biggest misconceptions we hear from people are concerns over election security. In the past several election cycles, our voting machines, methods and registry have come under attack from people who want to undermine results.

You can rest assured that your vote is secure in Maryland. Our voting machines are never connected to the Internet or the associated risks with vote hacking, and weekly scans are conducted on machines to detect vulnerabilities. The state follows strict protocol that compares mail-in ballots with voter registration to prevent anyone from voting twice. Ballot boxes are monitored 24/7.

I have complete faith in our process, but if something goes even slightly off track, rigorous protocol and backup plans are already in place. We are ready.

Technology may change but attempts at intentionally misleading and misdirecting voters is not new. There are reports of fliers providing false election dates as far back as the 1700s. That’s one reason I have introduced legislation to criminalize the use of certain deceptive practices and voter intimidation tactics.  In the 2020 presidential election alone, we witnessed multiple incidents of deceptive practices. Texas voters received robocalls stating that the Democratic primary election would be taking place a day after its actual date. Communities of color in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and New York were targeted by robocalls sharing false information about how their data would be shared if they voted by mail. And Latino communities in Florida and other states were targeted with a widespread disinformation campaign.

In 2022, we have already seen armed individuals patrolling drop box locations and reportedly planning to do so on Election Day at polling locations.  The U.S. Justice Department has warned that such tactics can constitute intimidation, threats and coercion in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.

If anyone tries to interfere with your ability to vote or impinges on anyone’s voting rights – including using voter intimidation or harassment tactics – please report the incident to the Maryland State Board of Elections at 410-269-2840 or 1-800-222-8683.

Federal law also protects your right to vote, and if you have voting rights concerns on Election Day, you can also contact your federal officials at the U.S. Attorney’s office for the District of Maryland at 410-209-4800 or 301-344-4433.

Or you can contact the local Baltimore FBI field office at 410-265-8080.

I pledge to do everything in my power to protect your constitutional right to vote.

See you at the polls,