Facing a Deluge of Misinformation, Colorado Takes the Offensive Against It

Misinformation and security experts said that the initiatives by secretaries of state like Ms. Griswold were needed in the effort to shore up faith in elections, but that they were also indicative of how the issue had not been properly addressed at the federal level.

“It’s great that state election officials have taken a proactive approach to combat disinformation,” said Melissa Ryan, chief executive of Card Strategies, a consulting firm that researches misinformation. “But it isn’t their job, and it’s work done on top of their likely already strained capacity.”

There is an advantage to running such operations at the state level. Local election officials are more likely to be familiar to voters in their own state, and therefore can be effective messengers against misinformation.

“I think this is exactly the sort of operation that all secretaries of state should be running,” said Nina Jankowicz, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “Local officials are often more highly trusted than their federal counterparts.”

Frank LaRose, the secretary of state of Ohio, has confronted situations similar to the one Ms. Griswold faced in Colorado. In 2019, he recalled, a social media user posted deceptively edited video online, trying to show that he was able to vote multiple times in Ohio.

“Our foreign adversaries know they can’t hack elections, but they can hack voters,” Mr. LaRose, a Republican, said. “When it takes its ugliest form is when it encourages people to self-disenfranchise, to make people not want to vote, and that’s where a lot of our efforts have been focused.”

Soon after the 2019 incident, he began instructing members of his office to make misinformation the top priority in their portfolio. He also set up an email address to report misinformation, and directed the election offices in all 88 counties in Ohio to sign up for verified Twitter accounts and .gov websites to prevent spoofing. And he began reaching out to trusted community leaders, particularly in minority communities, who could help him get the facts out when misinformation began to take hold.