New Democracy Map

Most States Lack Specific Protections Against Election Disinformation

Democracy Maps
3 min readSep 28, 2023

Since the 2020 election and the proliferation of the “Big Lie,” voting and election disinformation has increased dramatically in the United States. Election disinformation is a complex, persistent problem that continues to undermine democracy.

Voter confidence has declined sharply due to election disinformation: according to recent polling, a majority of Republicans still do not believe that Joe Biden won the 2020 election. Yet, Congress and social media companies have essentially refused to regulate election disinformation.

In response to ongoing election denialism, several states have updated their laws to explicitly protect against election-related disinformation. A new Democracy Map released by the Movement Advancement Project highlights where clear policies are in place to help prevent the spread of disinformation as we move towards the 2024 election.

What our map tracks

Our newest Democracy Map tracks laws that prohibit the knowing dissemination of disinformation about the time, place, and manner of conducting elections. This applies to false or misleading information about the qualifications or restrictions related to voter eligibility.

New Democracy Map: Protections Against Election Disinformation (via MAP)

To date, 11 states have laws that explicitly protect against election-related disinformation. This means that just over a quarter (28%) of the voting-eligible population lives in protected states where these laws are in place. Since 2020, three states have adopted new protections: Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia.

Disinformation laws generally work by imposing criminal penalties on anyone who intentionally spread false information about elections. Some states also provide private rights of action for voters to whom the false information is directed.

Disinformation vs. misinformation

An important distinction to keep in mind is the difference between disinformation and misinformation.

  • Disinformation is false content that is deliberately created to harm a person, social group, organization, or country.
  • Misinformation is false information, but it lacks an intent to harm any person, group, or organization.

Our Democracy Map focuses on disinformation protections. Some examples of disinformation and its circulation include:

  • An incorrect election date, often messaged to one group. For example: “Democrats vote on Wednesday,” when the election is on a Tuesday.
  • Inaccurate election rules targeting a particular group. During the 2016 election, for instance, numerous social media posts falsely claimed that voters could “text your vote” for Hillary Clinton.

As noted, election disinformation laws prohibit false information about how to vote, whether one is qualified to vote, etc., and they focus on conduct prior to or during an election.

For additional context: Virginia’s law is considered the model for legislation that protects against election disinformation. The text can be found here.

Why is disinformation relevant now?

Disinformation is not a new problem by any means. However, disinformation has become a greater problem in recent years. The rise of social media and the real-time advent of artificial intelligence have changed the voting and election landscape and allowed for the unprecedented spread of disinformation.

Expert analysis of the 2020 election found over 3 million instances of disinformation related to vote-by-mail policies alone. While much of this stemmed from Trump’s claims via the “Big Lie,” the election denialism movement has taken on a life of its own.

Combined with the high risk of election denialism in battleground states, circumstances are ripe for an unprecedented season of election disinformation. As we move into 2024 additional states should swiftly adopt these protections.

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Democracy Maps

Democracy Maps tracks more than 40 laws and policies on elections and voting. Project of Movement Advancement Project, an independent, nonprofit think tank.