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According to the latest rumor about pro-Trump influencer arrested on charges of conspiring with others in advance of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election to use various social media platforms to disseminate misinformation designed to deprive individuals of their constitutional right to vote,

there is a question:

Does the US Federal Law explicitly prohibit election misinformation?

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    The issue here isn't just misinformation but misinformation that is designed to deny the abilities of others to exercise their right to vote in an election. As was said in the very first paragraph on the page you linked the issue is trying to deprive people the right to vote. "A Florida man was arrested this morning on charges of conspiring with others in advance of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election to use various social media platforms to disseminate misinformation designed to deprive individuals of their constitutional right to vote." – Joe W Jan 28 at 15:51
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    This question session would have been very different if general disinformation was illegal. – Jontia Jan 28 at 16:23
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    question is too broad. shooting guns is legal, shooting people is not. – dandavis Jan 28 at 20:42
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U.S. Code § 20511, section 2, reads as follows:

(A person who)

  1. knowingly and willfully deprives, defrauds, or attempts to deprive or defraud the residents of a State of a fair and impartially conducted election process, by:
    • the procurement or submission of voter registration applications that are known by the person to be materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent under the laws of the State in which the election is held; or
    • the procurement, casting, or tabulation of ballots that are known by the person to be materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent under the laws of the State in which the election is held

shall be fined or imprisoned...

The actions of the person in question — misleading voters by presenting a putatively official and authorized voting location that was not (in fact) official or authorized — arguably falls under the second bullet point, as procurement of fraudulent ballots.

From what I read, this traces back to US Code title 18, section 241:

If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person [...] in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same; or

If two or more persons go in disguise on the highway, or on the premises of another, with intent to prevent or hinder his free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege so secured —

They shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both [...]

Where 'disguise on the highway' would be interpreted to mean providing false information on social media, and the conspiracy is implicit in the person's effort to support one candidate by defrauding the other.

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    I'm guessing the stuff about the highway is irrelevant to the case here. "in disguise on [...] the premises of another" is probably why there's a lot of evidence in the FBI affidavit that the suspect was misrepresenting his age, education, location etc. to make his posts more believable. I guess the premises here are interpreted as Twitter's premises or the message receivers' premises, but it's not made too clear. Alternatively they could claim the "highway" to be the "information highway", but that would probably be more tenuous in court where literal interpretations are preferred. – Fizz Jan 28 at 18:28
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    @Fizz: Meh, I don't know how the lawyers are going to argue it. Maybe you're right; I can see it either way. The important point either way is that 'intent to prevent or hinder his free exercise (of the right to vote)'. – Ted Wrigley Jan 28 at 19:01
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    The two code sections describe very different crimes. They are not particularly closely related. – phoog Jan 29 at 4:46
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    I strongly suspect that the "disguise" provision was originally aimed at KKK physical intimidation while wearing hoods and masks. – David Siegel Jan 29 at 15:49
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    @TedWrigley that's just not correct. They are legally distinct crimes. The elements of the crime are different, and the penalities are different. – phoog Jan 30 at 20:20
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Does the US Federal Law explicitly prohibit election misinformation?

Yes, but only certain misinformation triggers this provision of the law. For example, the law does not cover lying about a candidate's platform.

In the case linked in the question, the misinformation was about the voting process itself:

As alleged in the complaint, between September 2016 and November 2016, in the lead up to the Nov. 8, 2016, U.S. Presidential Election, Mackey conspired with others to use social media platforms, including Twitter, to disseminate fraudulent messages designed to encourage supporters of one of the presidential candidates (the “Candidate”) to “vote” via text message or social media, a legally invalid method of voting.

The key element here is that the misinformation would lead people to think they had voted when in fact they had not, thus impeding their exercise of the right to vote. Because it is a conspiracy offense, it isn't necessary to show that anyone was actually misled. From the press release:

What Mackey allegedly did to interfere with this process – by soliciting voters to cast their ballots via text – amounted to nothing short of vote theft. It is illegal behavior and contributes to the erosion of the public’s trust in our electoral processes.

A lie such as "candidate Smith will nationalize the lemonade industry" would not be illegal.

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  • I suspect the "vote theft" aspect is why the FBI affidavit includes some actual statistics on the number text messages sent by those duped (around 5,000), i.e. to prove actual "vote theft" instead of merely an attempt. It's still a bit unclear to me under which para of 18 USC 241 that falls exactly. – Fizz Jan 30 at 6:07
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    If it included lying about a platform, then most canditates would be in jail :-( – jamesqf Jan 30 at 19:10
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    @Fizz it doesn't. 18 USC 241 is a conspiracy offense. For a conspiracy charge it is not necessary to show that the contemplated crime was ever even attempted, let alone that it actually occurred. Perhaps there is another charge as well. – phoog Jan 31 at 9:22
  • What law does this violate? – Acccumulation Feb 1 at 4:47
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Does US Federal Law explicitly prohibit election misinformation?

Neither 18 U.S. Code CHAPTER 29—ELECTIONS AND POLITICAL ACTIVITIES nor 52 U.S. Code Subtitle I—Voting Rights contain any "explicit" prohibitions on election misinformation. Consequently, any "speech" containing misinformation must be prosecuted under other laws.

The complaint states a violation of "Tile 18, United States Code, Section 241", which is defined in 18 U.S. Code § 241 as "Conspiracy against rights".

If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same; ...

Conspiracy to "injure" a right to vote by misleading a voter would seem to qualify as a violation of US law.

However, H.R.1 - For the People Act of 2019 (116th Congress), had it passed, would have amended 18 U.S. Code § 594 - Intimidation of voters to make certain "deceptive acts", related to federal elections, unlawful.

These deceptive acts include "by means of written, electronic, or telephonic communications, to communicate or cause to be communicated information" that "has the intent to mislead voters, or the intent to impede or prevent another person from exercising the right to vote in an election" regarding "the time or place of holding any election" or "the qualifications for or restrictions on voter eligibility for any such election".

H.R.3281 - Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2019 and S.1834 - Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2019 were introduced in the House and Senate, respectively, to apply those same deceptive acts to 52 U.S. Code § 10101 - Voting rights subsection (b).

Note that 18 U.S. Code § 594 and 52 U.S. Code § 10101(b) have similar goals with regard to voting.

Since Democrats, having introduced the "deceptive acts" legislation, one might expect them to reintroduce similar legislation.

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    The nature of the misinformation is significant. – phoog Jan 29 at 11:45
  • "Conspiracy to "injure" a right to vote" The law says "injure a person", not "injure a right to vote". – Acccumulation Feb 1 at 4:48
  • @Acccumulation - "[I]njure a right to vote" is to "person" as Hamilton's "injury done to the Constitution" in Federalist 33 is to "the people". I don't see the problem with how I wrote it. – Rick Smith Feb 1 at 13:50

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