This week, FBI officials warned of potential interference from Russia and China in the upcoming midterms, providing a timely reminder that what happens in our elections doesn’t just matter here in the United States. According to reporting, the FBI believes Russia and China have different goals: Russia is looking to sow division and amplify doubts about the integrity of US elections, with FBI officials flagging potential claims of compromised election infrastructure. China, on the other hand, is seeking to undermine specific candidates it sees as problematic to Beijing’s interests.

This warning contributes to a notable shift in strategy for China around US elections; according to the US government, China considered interfering in the 2020 election, but ultimately decided against it. The FBI assessment comes on the heels of Meta taking down a network of China-based accounts that targeted a US audience with political content—the first confirmation of a China-backed information campaign to influence a US election.

Despite this assessment and other warnings of election meddling from foreign actors, Midterm Monitor data shows that messaging from US social media accounts on election meddling and interference has largely focused on domestic, not foreign, threats. Of the 45 candidate tweets between July 1 and October 4, 2022 that mentioned the terms “meddle” or “meddling,” only one tweet mentioned a foreign adversary, and it claimed that the FBI and Facebook were more responsible for meddling in the 2020 election than Russia.
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New from ASD at GMF

While it’s clear election denialism among secretary of state candidates drives engagement online, the vast majority of tweets containing potential mis- or disinformation keywords from secretary of state candidates—from both parties—were aimed at counteracting false narratives of widespread fraud. The first Midterm Monitor report reviews data from secretary of state accounts followed on the monitor, and dives into the battleground states of Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
New Mexico’s Republican secretary of state candidate Audrey Trujillo consistently ranks among the top three most influential secretary of state candidates on social media as tracked by the Midterm Monitor, ASD at GMF’s Bret Schafer told the Source NM.
ASD at GMF’s David Levine spoke to Politico about the robust, comprehensive effort to infiltrate and manipulate the election process by getting to poll workers, the backbone of US democracy. Levine authored a report on how to vet poll workers for insider threats.

State Spotlight: Pennsylvania

ASD at GMF takeaways from the battleground state of Pennsylvania.

  • Links shared by Keystone State candidates show party divergence in news sources—and *some* overlap. This week’s Midterm Monitor report found that Republicans and Democrats shared articles from largely—though not entirely—different information sources. For both Democrat and Republican candidates, the two most shared local news sites were the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Among national media outlets, Fox News was the only domain among the top ten most shared domains by both Republicans and Democrats. (Though there was no overlap in the individual Fox News articles shared by candidates from the two major parties.) Somewhat surprisingly, the Washington Post was among the ten most shared domains by Republican candidates. But information sources diverged from there, with Republican candidates in Pennsylvania sharing articles from conservative outlets like the Washington Examiner and Free Beacon and linking to videos on Rumble, a video sharing platform favored by conservatives. Pennsylvania Democrats, meanwhile, favored legacy media outlets like NBC and a local NPR affiliate.
  • Shortage of poll workers “biggest issue” of the 2022 primary. The biggest issue Philadelphia confronted during the 2022 primary was a shortage of poll workers, according to Seth Bluestein, city commissioner for the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Board of Elections. When asked how his colleagues addressed this challenge, Bluestein touted the Philadelphia Board of Elections’ efforts to pair full-time elections staff with voting locations that had fewer experienced workers. “We take full-time staff from the Board of Elections, and we send them out [to polling places that need more assistance] and help them [new poll workers] get the machines set up, do another refresher training on the ground as they’re setting up the polling place, and then help them break down the polling place afterwards to get the results from the machines.” Listen to the Ballots and Bagels interview with Bluestein and David Levine.
  • Election intricacies, slow reporting target for malign actors. From lawsuits over the proper certification of election results to state laws that prevent the pre-canvassing of ballots and slow the counting of election results, the intricacies of election administration present great opportunity for foreign or domestic actors looking to undermine Pennsylvanians’ confidence in the system. Unlike 37 other states, such as Florida, Arizona, and Ohio, Pennsylvania cannot pre-canvass its ballots—the process for opening and processing mail ballots before Election Day and thus speeding up the vote counting—until 7 a.m. on Election Day. The delayed reporting of election results creates an information vacuum, producing an environment in which conspiracies and distrust in the electoral process thrive. Read the full op-ed from David Salvo and Rachael Dean Wilson in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Resources You Should Have

ASD at GMF’s David Levine and the Carter Center’s Avery Davis-Roberts outline how more robust election observation could help save US elections.
The Center for Internet Security developed an Essential Guide to Election Security to serve as a first-stop resource for election officials to learn about best practices in election security.

A Big Idea

“A good friend in the intelligence community has said, Russia is the hurricane, China’s climate change in the sense of political interference.”

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Check out all of ASD at GMF’s work on the US midterms here.

The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.