Tag Archives: voter

Fake News, Aziz Ansari & The Vote

In the run up to the 2016 presidential election, a tweet featuring popular Indian American actor Aziz Ansari urged voters to cast their vote from home. The photoshopped image showed Ansari, star of Master of None and Parks & Recreation, holding a sign that said “Save Time. Avoid the Line. Vote from Home.”

It’s illegal to vote from home or online in an US election, but that of course, did not deter Russian hackers behind the ad who used Twitter and Facebook to spread misinformation about the 2016 election.

Did some people tweet in their vote? Twitter did not say. Not even when a Congressional committee eventually began an investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election, as fake news surged unchecked on social media platforms, Twitter and Facebook included.

Four years later we are in another contentious election cycle. And the fake news machinery rolls on, brazenly manipulating a divided electorate with tales that range from the silly to more serious.

In a post that went viral, President Trump recently retweeted a link entitled “Twitter Shuts Down Entire Network To Slow Spread Of Negative Biden News”, from the news site Babylon Bee, that openly admits to running “Fake News you can trust” – the tagline on its Twitter page.  Sometime the truth isn’t obvious even when it stares you in the face!

Absurd news stories from the conservative Babylon Bee and its left-leaning counterpart The Onion, often get significant clicks and shares with their satirical takes on current events. But they sit outside the fringes of ‘countermedia’ outlets which produce stories that are much more insidious and dangerous to democracy.

What’s different with the current crop of fake news protagonists, is they’re not just distant, foreign ‘troll factories’ igniting discontent among voters in the US. A University of Colorado study of Facebook and Twitter users in America reports that people at ideological extremes in this country are likely to make misleading stories go mainstream via social media.

Fake news instigators are unleashing a wave of misleading ads and false news to sow unrest among voters.  But’s what’s more concerning is that bad actors are weaponizing social media, with much more dangerous consequences.

Axios reported that at least 11 Congressional nominees have expressed support for QAnon, a conspiracy theory cult which has propagated bizarre stories through its Redditt and other social media accounts, like the one about the coronavirus being created by the ‘deep state’, and the notorious ‘Pizzagate,’ which ended with an armed vigilante storming a neighborhood pizzeria.

This election season, purveyors of fake news are adopting devious tactics to spread misinformation and disinformation to interfere with the election, intimidate voters and suppress the vote.

Speakers at an October 16 Ethnic Media Services briefing shared their perspectives on the intent behind messaging that’s being fabricated to confuse and disenfranchise voters.

Cameron Hickey, Jacqueline Mason and Jacobo Licona

“It doesn’t have to be false to be a problem,’ said Cameron Hickey, Program Director of Algorithmic Transparency at the National Conference on Citizenship (NCOC). In fact, fear mongering in conspiracy theories is designed to make recipients scared, angry or self-righteous and provoke changes in behavior, like the aforementioned gunman in the ‘Pizzagate’ incident.

With regard to the upcoming election, said Hickey, the most ‘concerning’ thing is talk of an impending ‘civil war’ that is appearing in messaging from both sides of the political spectrum. Warnings to voters about being prepared for armed conflict in the event of election results that don’t result in their favor, are “seeding the ground for potential violence,” warned Hickey.

Information about mail-in and absentee ballots, or when and where and how people can vote are embedded in messaging  that may be (intentionally or unintentionally) misleading. A classic example of this said Hickey, is the one which says, “Republicans can vote on Tuesdays and Democrats vote on Wednesdays.”

Jacqueline Mason, senior investigative researcher at First Draft, shared a picture of Kamala Harris, the Democratic VP nominee, that went viral on social media. The photoshopped image showed Harris against images of black men she had allegedly imprisoned beyond their release dates, though upon closer inspection, the background appears to be composed of repeated images of the same six men.

What does this discordance say about our culture with its reliance on digital echo chambers and crumbling trust in mainstream media and government?

“We are no longer having conversations about the issues or the identities of the politicians running for office but exaggerating narrow bands of their perspective and amplifying them in ways that distort reality,” said Hickey.

Not only is it becoming harder to distinguish between what’s true and what isn’t, in the false narratives being pedaled on social media, but it appears that civil discourse, along with a responsibility to the truth, is also slipping away from our collective grasp.


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

 

Break-up or Divorce: The Case of Indian-American Voters

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

The 2020 US presidential election is poised to be the watershed moment in Indian-American (IA) politics. The significance of this election lies in the stratification of IA votes. Once a solid Democratic voting block, IA voters have been progressively turning away from the Democratic Party. 

A recent Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) survey suggests that as many as 28% of eligible IA voters will vote for the Republican Party candidate Donald Trump in the upcoming presidential elections. That is a 12 point increase from a paltry 16% in 2016 who voted for Trump. The data suggests just 66% of support for Joe Biden. Compared to this, nearly 84% of Indian-Americans had voted for Barack Obama. The AAPI data also suggests only 57% of eligible IA men will vote Democrat in the 2020 elections compared to 71% in 2016.

The numbers for the Trump supporters could be even higher. We all know that most surveys had grossly underestimated support for Trump in the 2016 elections. Most gave Hilary Clinton, the then Secretary of State and the former First Lady, 90% (or more) chance of winning the election going late into the election night itself. Suffice to say, many Trump supporters did not openly profess their electoral preferences in the last election for fear of ridicule and public shaming. With intolerance and ‘cancel culture’ sweeping the American landscape, this fear has become a reality. Several stories of personal and professional harm have come up in both social and mainstream media. 

The change marks a tectonic shift in the voting preferences of IAs. There is a general sense of disenchantment and disillusionment against the Democratic Party. Many IAs are not comfortable with the Democratic Party’s hard left turn and its support for Antifa and other radical violent groups. That process of disenchantment has been exacerbated by Democrats’ brazen Islamopandering. When the Indian Parliament made provisions for full constitutional integration of Jammu & Kashmir, and when it passed the Citizenship Amendment Act making special provisions for persecuted religious minorities in the theocratic Islamic states of the Indian subcontinent, some of the high profile Democrats launched a campaign against the government of PM Narendra Modi. One of those high profile Democrats includes the presidential ticket of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. 

The real concern for the Indian-Americans isn’t necessarily the H-1B visas, nor is the overall Indo-US relationship which has already “overcome the hesitations of history” in the last decade or so. The Indian-Americans, however, are now genuinely concerned about their future and safety in the US. The left-dominated academia and media have created an extremely negative image of the Hindus, the largest religious group among Indian-Americans. The specter of Hindu Nationalism, Hindutva, Caste, etc., has been raised – without much understanding and contextualization – to demean and create hatred against the followers of one of the oldest and most liberal faiths. 

Many Democrats, including Indian-American politicians, have actively indulged in enabling and perpetuating Hinduphobia in the US. For example, some of the most vicious Hinduphpobic attacks on a former presidential candidate and a practicing Hindu woman came from within the Democratic Party and its affiliates. That trend of attacking politicians with Hindu roots has continued unabated as we approach the election date.

Another reason for the shift in IA voting preferences is due to what is going on in India. Home of the oldest civilization, India is the sacred land that “bears traces of gods and footprints of heroes. The memory of this land is etched deep in the consciousness of the Indian diaspora across the globe. That sacred land is undergoing, what journalist-scholar and parliamentarian Dr. Swapan Dasgupta calls, a phase of ‘awakening’.

After hundreds of years of loot, plunder, subjugation, colonization, and experimentation with the leftist ideology, India is rediscovering its roots, its suppressed history, and trampled pride. As it recovers from the abject poverty due to colonial exploitation, India as the world’s fifth-largest economy is much more prosperous and confident now than when its British colonizers had left it in1947. The idea of India presented by the prejudiced Indologists on one hand and colonial (and colonized) “outsiders on the other, is being challenged. This challenge, however, is resisted by vested interest groups and many of them find support within the Democratic Party. 

The Republicans may not be much different from the Democrats but President Trump, on his part, has refused to get involved in India’s internal politics and has openly embraced and extremely popular PM Modi. As a result, more Indian-Americans are willing to give Trump a chance and are jettisoning the Democratic ship in droves. They made their presence felt in the defeat of an extremely anti-Hindu Bernie Sanders in the US presidential primaries and they are gearing up for the presidential election, especially in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, and North Carolina. They already see a template in the historic defeat of the Labour Party in last year’s UK parliamentary elections.

No matter how one looks at it, there are telltale signs all around of a strained relationship between the Democrats and the Indian-Americans. Whether there will be a short-term break-up or a permanent divorce from what some call an abusive relationship, only time will tell.


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and an activist. He frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic Knowledge Tradition, and current affairs in several media outlets.

The Virus Is Hurting Your Vote

Will your vote be counted as we move to mail-in-voting this election year? The odds may not be in your favor.

The advent of COVID-19 has disrupted an already contentious US election cycle and precipitated conditions that could derail the voting process in Election 2020.

“Sizable shares of the population may not be able to vote safely in 2020,” said Dr. Nathaniel Persilly, a Stanford University law professor and political scientist, at a media briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services on August 21. The pandemic is forcing a massive shift in the way people cast their vote in the next few months as local jurisdictions reshape voting processes that could vary significantly across the country, a changeover that could potentially disenfranchise millions of voters.

“Without the political will to steer the electorate in a new normal balloting system, the pandemic will determine who votes and how they vote,” cautioned Dr. Persilly, who runs the Healthy Elections Project at Stanford.

By March it was clear that the pandemic was going to severely impact the election.  Tens of millions of people accustomed to voting by mail or at a polling station would need to move to a new voting system different than it has been historically. Changing how 50 to 60 million people vote in the midst of a relentless pandemic and a dysfunctional voting process could cause a crisis in American democracy, that particularly affects minorities and communities of color, said experts at the briefing.

L-R: Andrea Miller, Karthick Ramakrishnan, Terry Ao Minnis, Dr. Nathaniel Persilly

Will the American electorate be able to safely cast their vote in the next general election? Panelists agreed that conflicting factors make that outcome uncertain. Retrofitting the voting process is complicated by the lack of money and time needed for that transition, noted Dr. Persilly, because “we have three months not three years to deal with it.”

Congress appropriated $400 million to states to address election challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, but that is not nearly enough said Dr. Persilly, calling it “a fraction – ten percent – of what is needed to pull off this election.”  In addition, the decentralization of the US electoral infrastructure has placed critical decisions about voting in the hands of over ten thousand local jurisdictions  and produced a fractured voting system.

It will be a challenging task to implement a pandemic-proof election when election officials are constrained by the absence of a national election strategy, inadequate funding, a postal service under duress and a record shortage of poll workers.

Power the Polls are reporting that voting facilities need 250,000 new poll workers to work the election. Most poll workers are over 60 and at risk due to the coronavirus. A new generation of poll workers is long overdue, remarked Dr. Persilly, suggesting the recruitment of a new workforce aged 18-20, adept at using technology and digital voting equipment, and who should receive ‘hazard pay’ of $300 a day to work the voting frontlines in the midst of a raging pandemic.

The  Pandemic Affects Voters of Color

A major concern during the pandemic is the threat to voter access for communities of color who represent a rising proportion of voters in both the 2020 presidential elections and in many swing states. The immigrant vote experienced “big jumps in voter tun out between 2014 and 2018,”  said Karthick Ramakrishnan of AAPI Data, noting that 28% of registered, foreign born voters are Asian Americans.

But experts say the logistics of moving to mail-in voting during the pandemic will threaten voter access  in communities of color.

“If they held an election tomorrow, 1.3 million voters will not be able to vote,” said Andrea Miller of Reclaim Our Vote. Certain states could exploit the pandemic to enforce voter suppression and voter intimidation strategies and prevent voters of color from casting their ballot. Miller confirmed that a concerted effort to block certain demographics from voting “is most definitely planned.”

Of 245 million age-eligible voters in the US, “48 million are unregistered or inactive,” explained Miller, referring to people once on the active voter list but who lost the right to cast a legal ballot. In southern and western states which maintain voter rolls, voters can be removed (deemed inactive/moved to the ‘inactive list’ and then to ‘unregistered’ status), for not having voted in a specific number of federal elections.

Source: Andrea Miller, Reclaim Our Vote Campaign  (NGP-VAN)

Currently 16.6 million community of color voters have been dropped from the voter rolls for Election 2020, said Miller, condemning the “severe bait and switch’ tactics used to manipulate and suppress unsuspecting voters.

People believe when they initially register to vote that its ‘forever’  explained Miller. The registration process does not make it clear they will be removed from voter rolls if they miss voting in certain election cycles. Recipients often miss the fine print on postcards reminding them to reconfirm their registered voter status – a requirement that “ought to be in big red letters on front of the postcard,” stated Miller.

Often it’s too late for ‘unregistered ‘voters on election day. Voter suppression states tend to have strict photo ID requirements and do not offer same day registration or automatic registration to ‘inactive;’ voters. In Texas, voters can be “unregistered’ for not renewing voter registration after two years.  “Texas makes no bones about this,” said Miller. “If you do not vote consistently, after two federal elections, they will begin the process of removal from voter rolls.”

Historically, vote by mail has been a ‘white process.’ Communities of color moving to mail in votes could have their ballots challenged if a signature does not match the one on file or is missing altogether.  Votes are less likely to be counted if their authenticity is challenged warned Dr. Persilly, urging voters to verify mail-in ballots at drop off voting facilities. “ A signature could derail your vote.”

Voters with limited English proficiency find the voting process daunting, added Terry Ao Minnis of Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), pointing out that three in four Asian Americans speak a language other than English at home and find the language in voting materials too complex to understand.

Ao Minnis reminded participants that the Voting Rights Act (Section 203) gives members of a language minority group the right to language assistance in the form of native language ballots, translator written materials, and multilingual poll workers.  Section 208 mandates that they can choose a friend or relative to assist with the voting process. But many voters are unaware of their voting rights.

AAJC has developed in-language translated materials to explain how Asian Americans can exercise their right to vote and run a hotline (888 API Vote or 888 2374 8683) in English and 8 Asian languages that includes Hindi, Urdu and Bengali.

An Election Like No Other

Despite a rise in voter turnout, data from an ongoing AAPI survey shows both political parties have paid scant attention to the AAPI community. Director Ramakrishnan reported that 56% of respondents said they had no contact from the Democratic party or from Republicans (59 %). Targeted voter messaging is key to voter engagement and participation, said Ramakrishnan, emphasizing the need for ‘visually appealing outreach material’ that is demographically representative and culturally relevant.

Messaging via multiple touchpoints – door-door, phone calls, mailings or trusted messengers – should alleviate fears about COVID exposure and reinforce that drop off voting is safe, urged Ramakrishnan. Voter messaging must also counter misconceptions about fraud and explain tracking and verification processes. Failure to do so could reduce turnout and people will refrain from voting by mail, warned Ramakrishnan. In 2018, districts flipped in key congressional elections which have significant AAPI population “so really there should be  more outreach to immigrants,” he added.

The Asian American electorate is energized but “our community has yet to maximize our voting power,” said Ao Minnis.

In an election year like no other, more than voting rights are at stake for communities of color. If the pandemic determines who gets to vote and how in Election 2020, it will fundamentally change the practice of democratic elections and reshape the face of the American electorate.


Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents

Images: Healthy Elections Project; Ethnic Media Services