We’ve launched a special US midterm newsletter! Each week leading up to the November elections, we’ll share the latest analysis on disinformation and election security, and take a deep dive into the state of play in a battleground state. Read the first edition and subscribe here!

Arizona friends: Join Director Laura Thornton in Phoenix on October 18 for a discussion on how and why foreign adversaries are impacting US elections at the national and local levels, co-hosted by ASD at GMF, the McCain Institute, and the Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations. Register here!

Our Take

The ongoing influence of the Big Lie and the spread of election denialism has raised concerns that some poll workers may be willing to interfere with US elections out of a mistaken desire to ensure they’re “fair.” Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine details how election officials can prevent, detect, and recover from potential “rogue poll worker” threats in a new report

In the week before polls closed, Russian state media and diplomats mentioned terms related to the staged referendums in occupied areas of Ukraine in more than 2,000 tweets, making it one of the highest volume propaganda campaigns of the war, Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar finds in his latest analysis of Hamilton 2.0 data.

When the American candidate was elected secretary general of the UN’s International Telecommunications Union over the Russian candidate on Thursday, it signaled that countries around the world are more interested in a free and open internet than a state-controlled one, Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman writes in Lawfare

Follow us on Twitter for more quick takes @SecureDemocracy.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

Russian diplomats and state media focused on three main narratives last week: 

  • Referendums: Russian accounts tried to legitimize the sham referendums held in occupied areas of Ukraine by arguing that they were popular and pointing to positive commentary from foreign observers. State-backed outlets also accused Ukraine of conducting a terror campaign to prevent people from voting.
  • Mobilization: Propaganda related to the partial military mobilization tried to dispel confusion about the process, highlighted the benefits given to mobilized men, showed those men being cheered as they went to war, and acknowledged some of the problems with the mobilization program.
  • Nord Stream: Kremlin-affiliated media blamed the United States for attacks on the Nord Stream pipelines, arguing that US President Joe Biden had admitted he was going to destroy the pipelines and that Washington’s sabotage was driven by a desire to gain a greater share of the EU gas market. 

Chinese diplomats and state media focused on three main storylines: 

  • UN General Assembly: Nine of the ten most used phrases by monitored Chinese accounts were related to Foreign  Minister Wang Yi’s trip to the UN. Propagandists promoted China’s Global Development Initiative and highlighted Wang Yi’s meetings, including one with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, with officials blaming the United States for worsening relations.
  • Taiwan: Beijing-affiliated accounts emphasized the need to maintain the status quo with regard to Taiwan in international law and shared Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s warning that the United States was “playing with fire” over the island.
  • Xinjiang: Chinese propagandists denounced the UN Xinjiang report as Western disinformation, while showcasing the region’s natural wonders and pointing to the Uyghur population’s growth and increasing life expectancy.

Read the full report here

News and Commentary

EU, NATO calls Nord Stream leaks “sabotage”: EU and NATO leaders stated that the four leaks discovered in the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines were likely the result of a “deliberate act.” Head of European Operations Vassilis Ntousas said, “Moscow unleashed a coordinated disinformation effort attributing the incident to the US, but the response from both NATO and the EU has been clear, swift, and united, even if many of specifics of the suspected sabotage remain unclear. What is certain, though, is that this ‘deliberate disruption of active European energy infrastructure,’ according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, severs even more the energy ties and interdependencies between Russia and the EU. And regardless of how exactly it happened, this incident does expose many of the vulnerabilities and blind spots many EU member states and NATO allies have in the region.”

Michigan poll worker charged for inserting USB drive into poll book: On September 28, a poll worker in Kent County, Michigan was charged with a felony for allegedly inserting a USB drive into an electronic poll book after polls closed for the August 2 primary. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine said, “Poll workers who knowingly fail to follow the law or the direction of their election officials can do serious harm to the election process and must be held accountable for their actions. Due to the current hyperpolarized atmosphere in Michigan and elsewhere, incidents like the one in Kent County are likely to occur in future elections. It is imperative that election officials and their partners who work on the front lines of elections have plans in place to counter similar efforts.”

Meta disrupts Chinese influence campaign targeting midterm elections: On Tuesday, Meta announced that it took down a multi-platform network of fake accounts linked to China that sought to further divide the United States on issues such as gun rights and abortion access in what is the first known campaign seeking to influence US politics ahead of the midterm elections. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer told the Dispatch, “The amateurish and unfocused nature of the information operation Meta linked to China suggests that this was not a sophisticated, well-resourced attempt to interfere in the midterms. However, whether it was officially sanctioned or not, the effort to pit Americans against one another is a departure from past Chinese-linked efforts that typically have focused on advancing Beijing’s foreign policy agenda or blunting criticism of its domestic policies.”

In Case You Missed It  

  • The EU proposed an eighth sanctions package against Russia that includes a price cap on Russian oil, adds more individuals to a list of EU asset freezes, and imposes travel bans in retaliation for Russian escalation in the war in Ukraine. 
  • The United States will invest $210 million in Pacific Island countries to help tackle climate change and boost economic development in an effort to counter China’s activities in the region. 
  • Meta disabled a Russian propaganda network that sought to spread links to fake news stories and other pro-Russian posts and videos on social media to audiences in Europe. 
  • The Defense Intelligence Agency of Ukraine warned that it expects Russia to “carry out massive cyberattacks” against critical infrastructure facilities in Ukraine and allied countries. 
  • Right-wing activists who believe that the 2020 election was stolen have been challenging thousands of voter registrations and ballots in battleground states as part of a loosely coordinated campaign to sow doubt and chaos ahead of the midterms.
  • Berlin will likely need to repeat its 2021 state and district elections amid concerns that ballot paper shortages and ballot issues at polling stations may have influenced election results.

ASD in the News

China influence operation targeted US midterm elections. Senior Fellow Bret Schafer quoted in Politico EU

Activists say China’s new Silk Road equips autocrats with spy tech. Senior Fellow for Emerging Technologies Lindsay Gorman quoted in Thomson Reuters Foundation News

How Russia is trying to win over the global south. Research Analyst Joseph Bodnar quoted in The Economist

The Importance of Nonpartisan Election Observation. Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine joined a SMART Elections event

Olemme kaikki uhan alla”, sanoo demokratia-asiantuntija – Länsimaissa on meneillään kehitys, jonka vaikutuksista hän on hyvin huolissaan (“We are all under threat”, says the democracy expert – there is a development going on in Western countries, the effects of which she is very worried). Director Laura Thornton quoted in Helsingin Sanomat

Italia vota: el auge de la derecha y el conservadurismo radical (Italy votes: the rise of the right and radical conservatism). Head of European Operations Vassilis Ntousas wrote in Política Exterior

Β. Ντούσας:Το αποτέλεσμα των ιταλικών εκλογών προσθέτει άλλο ένα κρίκο στην αλυσίδα του πολιτικού αφηγήματος για την άνοδο της άκρας δεξιάς στην Ευρώπη(V. Ntousas: The result of the Italian elections adds another link in the chain of the political narrative about the rise of the extreme right in Europe). Head of European Operations Vassilis Ntousas quoted in Athens News Agency

Quote of the Week

“We need good faith actors on both sides of the aisle in order for democracy to continue.”

  • Former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Chris Krebs said during a Foreign Policy event on restoring trust in election results on September 28, 2022.

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