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As Utah’s election season ramps up so does the misinformation

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, addresses attendees during the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit, Friday, July 22, 2022, in Tampa, Fla.
Phelan M. Ebenhack
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, addresses attendees during the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit, Friday, July 22, 2022, in Tampa, Fla.

Election season is in full swing, and wading through what’s true and what’s not can feel overwhelming at times. In contentious political races, misinformation can be a common factor.

Misinformation can pertain to anything from false claims about the 2020 election to glossing over a candidate’s record to make them appear more acceptable — or radical — to voters.

Republican candidate for Salt Lake County Clerk Goud Maragani has made an effort to distance himself from claims of election fraud in campaign materials and on official social media accounts.

But it was revealed by The Salt Lake Tribune that Maragani made social media posts accusing Democrats of “cheating” to win the 2020 presidential election. Numerous lawsuits and investigations have failed to yield evidence that the 2020 race was ridden with fraud or tampering. Election officials and former President Donald Trump's own attorney general have affirmed that the 2020 election was free, fair and secure.

Still, nearly one in three Republican candidates for statewide offices that play a role in elections have echoed lies about widespread fraud costing Trump reelection, according to an Associated Press tally.

Maragani's rhetoric parallels changes in messaging of other Republicans running in 2022. Many are distancing themselves from past fraud claims as they get further from the primary and closer to the general election.

Maragani did not deny writing the posts and told the Tribune that he would have to “review [the] context” of them before commenting further.

The U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Lee and independent candidate Evan McMullin has also gotten more contentious as Election Day approaches.

In a recent attack ad, a clip of McMullin saying “the Republican base is racist” is used. The ad was made by the Club for Growth, a conservative political action committee that endorses Lee, but is not affiliated with his campaign.

The McMullin campaign shared a video of the entire sound bite, where he says “there is an element of the Republican base that is racist” during a discussion on CNN about the 2017 riots in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Desperate lies and deceptive editing like this is unacceptable,” McMullin said in a statement rebuking the ad.

Both instances are examples of misinformation.

While it can feel overwhelming to be bombarded in the run-up to an election, it’s all about what you do afterward.

“I would say not to tune out, but to be selective,” said University of Utah Associate Professor of Communications Avery Holton. “Be smart and then check these folks out, really check them out. Just because you hear something that sounds saccharin from someone doesn’t mean it’s all gonna be sweet.”

A January ABC News/Washington Post survey showed that only 20% of respondents said they are “very confident” in the country’s elections.

For Holton, part of the answer to the misinformation problem is media literacy, or the ability to understand and analyze news and information with a critical eye.

“It’s important to have a long-term dialogue and an opportunity to explore what misinformation or what digital literacy is. Then [people will] make their own decisions and make them in informed ways.”

Holton said it’s smart to check multiple sources after hearing a story and to take a break if you feel overwhelmed by the news.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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