Michael S. Graham looks into several puzzling websites which have debuted at the Nevada state and Reno local levels during this election cycle.
The RenoElections.Org website has received lots of attention about what its intentions are exactly.
Two Sites Concerning Nevada’s Tight Senate Election
Three media sites in particular have gotten lots of attention, and each appears to be deceptive in its own way.
The Dean Heller campaign created Nevada Senate Updates which looks like a typical internet news site, and targets his opponent Congresswoman Jacky Rosen.
Rosen’s supporters were candid when they launched an in-your-face attack site named Dean Heller is Spineless, designed to mimic a typical internet news site.
Attack sites are now made to look exactly like typical news sites, creating more confusion for voters.
What Effect is the RenoElections Website Having?
Meanwhile, RenoElections.org is described as a “Nonpartisan” site focused on the city of Reno elections, but it seems to be supporting a specific list of candidates and their go-to issues.
This all begs the question: are these Nevada sites fads, born out of the Fake News furor of the 2016 general election, or are they now a new norm for all election cycles?
Karl Hall, the current Reno City Attorney, who is running for re-election, thinks they are here to stay, and are “not a momentary fad.” His opponent, John Kadlic, is more cautious.
Do “deceptive websites actually cause people not to vote,” Kadlic wonders, or do they cause people to, “change their mind about voting…after reviewing a deceptive website?”
“As long as these deceptive websites believe they are influencing elections, they will continue. If, however, data is gathered which shows that these deceptive websites have very little influence on the outcome of elections, then they will likely not become the new normal,” Kadlic said.
RenoElections plays up the word nonpartisan even though many believe it is clearly backing one set of candidates in Reno’s local elections.
An Increase in ‘Deceptive Interactions’?
Paul McKenzie, a Reno City Council member for Ward 4 who is running for re-election but is listed as declining to respond on RenoElections.Org, believes that we will see an increase in “deceptive interaction.”
“Given the impact social media sites have on a lot of people…with their ability to block or remove posts which do not support their talking points they lead people to believe they have a huge support network and that there are no opposition positions to the tale they are spinning,” Mckenzie said. “This tends to add to the divisiveness we are seeing throughout our country.”
The RenoElections.org site emerged just before Labor Day weekend with several billboards in the Truckee Meadows area advertising the site.
It features candidate bios on six candidates: Eddie Lorton, Mayor; Joe Lawrence, Ward 2; Bonnie Weber, Ward 4; Ellen Minetto, Washoe County School Board — District B; Andrew Benjamin Caudill, Washoe County School Board — District C; and Jeff Church, Washoe County School Board — District F. Their opponents are listed as having declined to respond.
This website has used the spineless word over and over to turn voters against incumbent U.S. Senator Dean Heller as he runs to keep his seat in one of the country’s most crucial races.
More a Norm than a Fad?
Richard Siegel, a professor of political science at UNR, also agrees that deceptive sites are more of a norm than fad at this point. “I feel that such deceptive sites will be with us unless and until effective means are found to close them down,” he said. “I also am concerned that efforts to close such sites sill endanger the utilization of some legitimate political sites.”
Reporting by Michael S. Graham for the Reynolds Sandbox