KSL Truth Test: AI bots, ballots and the best sources for reliable election information

May 6, 2024, 10:39 PM | Updated: 10:54 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – Like it or not, artificial intelligence is here to stay. And it’s only getting smarter. But just how smart is AI when it comes to helping you vote?
The KSL Investigators recruited a local election official to help put five bots to the test: Chat GPT, Anthropic’s Claude, Gemini from Google, Meta AI and Snapchat’s My AI.

With the help of Davis County Clerk Brian McKenzie, we found AI is a source of seemingly endless information. But it’s also a platform for misinformation.

We asked AI these questions about this year’s election:

1. When’s the next election in Utah?

Chat GPT knew the right date of the general election – Nov. 5 – but it didn’t mention Utah’s primary election on June 25.

“It seems like this AI is still rather young and learning a lot of things,” McKenzie said. “May not be a great resource to find out election information.”

Google’s Gemini responded by telling us to Google it. Anthropic’s Claude gave an error message, but that result didn’t disappoint McKenzie as much as you might think.

“I would rather no answer than a wrong answer,” he said.

A wrong answer is exactly what Snapchat’s My AI spit out. It gave a bad date, saying Utah’s next election is two days before the actual general election date in November.

“It’s early, which is better than late, but it is inaccurate,” McKenzie said.

Meta AI was the only bot to mention the upcoming primary in June.

The facts: Utah voters can cast their ballots in races including U.S. Senate and House, governor and state attorney general on June 25 in Utah’s primary election.

2. What do I need to do to vote in the primary election?

Chat GPT’s advice: Make sure you’re registered to vote; choose your party affiliation, if necessary; find your polling place; then get out and vote. Meta’s AI gave similar information. McKenzie said these responses, while general, are accurate. But whether you need to affiliate with a particular party beforehand is more complex.

The facts: Only registered Republicans can vote in the GOP primary. The deadline to switch party affiliations closed in January. But if you’re not yet affiliated, you can register as a Republican until June 14 and still vote in the party’s primary. Separately, you don’t have to be a registered Democrat to vote in the Democratic primary. Unaffiliated voters can also cast a ballot.

AI election test as four women review voter signatures behind a pile of ballots

Employees in Davis County’s election center review voter signatures for certification. (Josh Szymanik, KSL TV)

3. Can I show up and vote if I’m not registered to vote yet?

Utah allows same-day voter registration for the Nov. 5 general election, but ChatGPT didn’t know that. Snapchat’s My AI also missed the mark. But it wasn’t all misinformation. For example, Chat GPT knew that if you vote by mail, you can track the status of your ballot via a state website.

The facts: Even if you’re not registered to vote in Utah, you’re not out of luck. You can show up, register, and cast a vote on Election Day. But if you vote in person, you won’t be able to use the ballot-tracking feature. That’s only available to those who vote by mail.

4. Who’s running to replace Sen. Mitt Romney?

Chat GPT didn’t get specific about the candidates vying to succeed Romney. Instead, it directed us to check news sources and the website of the Utah lieutenant governor’s office, which oversees elections in the state.

What’s important, McKenzie said, is that the bot pointed out where voters can find correct answers.

“That’s great,” McKenzie said.

A later test of Meta AI dove into the details and got them right. Citing Politico and the Associated Press as its sources, it noted the Utah GOP has chosen Riverton mayor Trent Staggs as its nominee for the open Senate seat.

The AI platform correctly stated that Staggs will vie against other Republican candidates, U.S. Rep. John Curtis and former Utah House Speaker Brad Wilson, in the June primary election. It also accurately pointed out professional skier and mountaineer Caroline Gleich is the Democratic nominee.

5. Can Utah’s voting machines be hacked?

For the final test, we let the elections expert take on AI himself, and McKenzie posed the question about security.

The answer from chat GPT was a long one. The bot told us as with any technology, voting machines can potentially be susceptible to hacking attempts. It went on to state: “However, efforts are made to implement security measures to mitigate these risks and ensure the integrity of the voting process.”

The facts: McKenzie was impressed by the nuanced take.

“You know, if I was to prepare some sort of a statement on election security, I would probably have something very similar to that,” he said.

AI: Reliable or risky?

In the end, Chat GPT gave the most complete information, but none of the AI bots answered every question correctly. McKenzie said that’s the key takeaway.

“We can’t put 100% confidence in these new technologies, as they’re still learning and as we’re learning how to interact with them,” he said.

McKenzie encourages voters who want to use AI as a resource for election information to do their own fact-checking using official government websites and reputable news sources. The one place he encourages every Utahn to go to is vote.utah.gov.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

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KSL Truth Test: AI bots, ballots and the best sources for reliable election information