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Oregon election system falsely accused

Twitter’s move to suspend the account of a group spreading falsehoods about Oregon’s election system demonstrates the danger of relying on social media rumors and unreliable news sources. Facebook, too, took action against the group, but went only so far as to tag it as “partly false” and refer users to fact checks on the claims.

All of this stems from Oregon’s closed primary system, which requires voters to be registered with a political party to receive ballots for that party’s candidates in primary elections. Many voters are confused by this, and some believe they have been registered as Democrats or Republicans when they are actually registered as non-affiliated, meaning they receive ballots listing only ballot measures and candidates for nonpartisan positions.

General election ballots list candidates for all parties, which elections officials say adds to some voters’ confusion. If voters have been skipping primary elections and voting only in general elections, they may think they are registered with a party when they’re not.

Adding to the confusion is the state’s Motor Voter law, which took effect in 2016. Under that law, people who aren’t already registered are automatically signed up to vote when they obtain or renew a driver’s license or state ID card. They are initially registered as non-affiliated to ensure fairness, then sent a postcard offering them the opportunity to choose a party if they wish. If they don’t respond, they remain unaffiliated.

Oregon’s primary rules haven’t changed in years, but that didn’t stop the Oregon Republican Party and the Facebook group “My Party Was Changed Oregon” from soliciting reports from Oregonians who claim someone changed their party affiliation without their consent. Not only did they encourage these questionable claims, they shared them with the campaign of President Donald Trump, who has attacked vote-by-mail systems, even though supposed registration changes have nothing to with mail voting.

It wasn’t just voters who thought they were Republicans. Some who thought they were registered Democrats also were surprised to get non-affiliated ballots, but they turned out to be registered as non-affiliated all along.

Then the website Gateway Pundit, known for issuing false “news” reports and spreading hoaxes, claimed Oregon officials had changed hundreds of Republicans’ registrations to non-affiliated.

Secretary of State Bev Clarno — a Republican — fired back against these false claims. Jackson County Clerk Chris Walker says the complaints crop up in every primary election.

It’s fairly easy to see why groups with a partisan ax to grind, such as the state Republican Party or the Facebook group, founded by a Republican, would want to raise doubts about the election system in general, especially when Trump is claiming without evidence that vote-by-mail systems disadvantage Republicans.

It’s harder to figure out why anyone would bother changing even one voter’s party affiliation, let alone hundreds. The only effect would be to reduce the number of voters in a particular party’s primary. That wouldn’t benefit the other party, which votes only on its slate of candidates. In the general election, which pits Republicans against Democrats, every voter gets the same ballot regardless of party affiliation.

The lesson in all of this: Don’t believe everything you read on Facebook and Twitter — especially if it comes from Gateway Pundit.

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