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Municipal workers extract Luzerne County ballots from their envelopes, Wednesday, November 4, 2020, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. © AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

(New York) – The United States electoral process needs time to tabulate the vote in the November 3, 2020 general election, Human Rights Watch said today. News organizations and social media companies should be vigilant in preventing their platforms from being used to disseminate misinformation and disinformation about the electoral process, while respecting freedom of expression.

“Millions of US voters turned out to cast their ballots in recent weeks and during a day of largely trouble-free voting,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “Politicians don’t decide who wins. Election officials are carrying out an impartial and transparent counting process so that the will of the people decides.”

The huge increase in mail-in ballots because of the Covid-19 pandemic has added to normal delays in the vote tally, with results in several states too early to call. Early in the morning of November 4 President Donald Trump falsely claimed that he had won the election and raised unsubstantiated and reckless allegations of fraud.

Social media platforms should take down, label, or limit the spread of election-related disinformation and misinformation in accordance with their content policies while respecting freedom of expression, Human Rights Watch said. News organizations should be critical in their reporting on election-related disinformation and misinformation and provide necessary context. 

Demonstrations occurred overnight and more are expected in the coming days from all sides of the political spectrum. In recent letters to state and local officials, Human Rights Watch and other organizations urged them to ensure that law enforcement – including local police and sheriffs, National Guard and other military units, and federal agents – permit demonstrators to peacefully assemble in accordance with international standards.

Governments and international organizations should be cautious in making any pronouncements about the outcome of the election until a clear winner is determined, Human Rights Watch said. Foreign leaders and international human rights bodies should reaffirm that the institutional process of determining the winner of the US presidential election is ongoing and monitor the human rights situation in the country with a view to speaking out if necessary in support of the rights to vote, freedom of expression, and to peaceful assembly.

“Giving local election officials the time to ensure a rights-respecting ballot count is essential to democratic accountability and respect for human rights in the United States,” Roth said. “Law enforcement needs to respect and protect peaceful demonstrations. And traditional and social media have a responsibility to counter voting disinformation and incitement on their platforms.”

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