Our Takes on the U.S. Election

Americans can do seven things to save our democracy during election week, Director Laura Rosenberger writes in The New York Times.

There are three important takeaways from Russia and Iran’s recent attempts to interfere in the 2020 election, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine writes in The Fulcrum. The American public must remain vigilant; Americans need to assess election-related news calmly and cautiously; and Americans should report election-related disinformation or any other issues they see to local authorities.

Russia, and potentially Iran, may try to sow chaos by providing or amplifying seeds of doubt around the election outcome, but Americans can refuse to fall for this deception by relying on trusted sources of information, Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph writes in The Dallas Morning News.

There has been growing concern about voter intimidation in the presidential election, but voters should rest assured that officials are aware of these threats and have been planning for them, Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine and Tammy Patrick write in The Fulcrum.

ASD’s Election Day Best Practices

In lieu of the usual news and commentary, ASD is sharing some tips to help voters secure the 2020 election against potential foreign interference.

Be a patient voter. Election officials say the country should be prepared not to know the outcome of the presidential election on November 3. Longer reporting times are not an indication of a problem, but a sign that officials are following protocols to ensure the vote count is both secure and accurate. Even in a normal year, results reported on election night are considered unofficial, as states conduct days or weeks-long certification processes. This year, news outlets could take longer to report unofficial results due to the increase in mail-in and absentee ballots. The FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) have warned that foreign actors are likely to exploit incomplete election results to spread disinformation to “discredit the electoral process and undermine confidence in U.S. democratic institutions.” ASD Director Laura Rosenberger has urged voters to be patient and to give election officials the time needed to certify results. (The Wall Street Journal, Lawfare Blog, Associated Press, FBI & CISA, The New York Times)

Consume and share information responsibly. Election night uncertainty and anxiety will create opportunities for foreign and domestic actors to spread disinformation aimed at sowing chaos and distrust in election processes and results. These disinformation campaigns could include premature declarations of victory and amplified reports of real or alleged voter suppression, ballot fraud, and cyberattacks. The U.S. Intelligence Community and election security experts have urged voters to rely on state and local election officials as authoritative sources of information about election results and to crosscheck information across multiple reliable sources before sharing it. ASD has warned that disinformation operations are designed to provoke emotions that blind readers to the credibility of the content, making it critical to pause and verify the authenticity of information before sharing it. (Election Integrity Partnership, FBI & CISA, WBHM, ASD)

Understand the threat of “perception hacks.” Foreign actors may seek to spread doubt about the integrity of the election by attempting to create the perception that their interference efforts were more impactful than they actually were. In recent weeks, government agencies, social media platforms, and experts have raised alarm around the potential that Russia, Iran, and others could seek to frame small-scale and falsified cyber intrusions as evidence of widespread failures in the U.S. election system. Experts warn that Americans will be most vulnerable to the threat of “perception hacking” in the aftermath of Election Day, particularly if the vote is close and contested. Officials have stressed that voting machines are extremely difficult to hack, and the diversity of state election systems makes it nearly impossible for a single cyberattack to have a consequential impact. ASD Malign Finance Fellow Josh Rudolph has argued that voters can build resilience to perception hacks by being patient and relying on credible and transparent information from state and local election officials. (The New York Times, Facebook, Foreign Affairs, The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News)

View our work on the 2020 U.S. election here.

Hamilton 2.0 Analysis

In the last full week of coverage prior to Election Day, Russian state media continued to advance several familiar themes, including promotion of Hunter Biden allegations, claims of media bias, criticism of the two-party system, and claims of improprieties in the voting process. It is also worth noting that Twitter labelled a tweet from RT that amplified voter fraud claims under its Civic Integrity Policy, resulting in a predictable backlash and a series of “Big Tech censorship” articles from the outlet. Chinese and Iranian state media were less focused on the U.S. elections, though both took time to criticize the democratic process and reiterate their neutrality in the election. Global Times’ Editor-in-Chief Hu Xijin, for example, compared President Trump and former Vice President Biden’s exchanges to Errenzhuan, a traditional Chinese folk song/dance that involves funny dialogue and profanities. Meanwhile multiple Iranian state media outlets cast doubt on allegations of Iranian interference. Outside of election coverage, Chinese government officials and state media figures criticized the United States’ record on race and human rights to deflect criticism of state-sponsored labor camps in Xinjiang.

Continue reading here.

Featured Report

Authoritarian states are contesting democracies to reshape the global order. Over the past six months, we convened a bipartisan task force of 30 leading experts to tackle this challenge. ASD’s new report builds upon the task force’s findings to outline a national security strategy for the United States to leverage its strengths and close off vulnerabilities across the political, economic, technological, and information domains to regain the upper hand in the competition against autocracies.

In Case You Missed It

  • Iranian hackers have targeted state and local networks nationwide and breached the systems of at least one state, according to a joint statement by the FBI and CISA.
  • The Russian hacking group known as Fancy Bear has targeted email accounts of Democratic state parties in California and Indiana.
  • Local election officials have had to manage a flood of misinformation in the lead up to Election Day.
  • Facebook suspended political group recommendations ahead of Election Day in an effort to reduce the spread of misinformation.
  • Russian hackers are targetingS. hospitals with ransomware attacks as coronavirus cases spike across the country.
  • The FBI arrested five individuals on charges that they conspired with the Chinese government to harass U.S. immigrants from China in attempts to get them to return there to be punished.
  • Microsoft reported that an Iranian hacking group used phishing attacks to target high-ranking attendees of international security conferences, including the Munich Security Conference.
  • A U.S. judge sentenced a Russian hacker to eight years in prison for his role in a fraud scheme that generated up to $100 million.

ASD in the News

How To Avoid Election Day Misinformation, Axios. Comments from Director Laura Rosenberger

Overstating the Foreign Threat to Elections Poses Its Own Risks, U.S. Officials and Experts Say, The Washington Post. Comments from Director Laura Rosenberger

Foreign Operations Sow Doubt in US Vote Tally, “The World.” Interview with Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt

Voting, Elections, and Representation Part 34: How the Votes are Counted with David Levine, 60-Second Civics. Interview with Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

Voting, Elections, and Representation, Part 33: How Voting Works with David Levine, 60-Second Civics. Interview with Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

Voting, Elections, and Representation Part 32: Election Security with David Levine, 60-Second Civics. Interview with Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

Laura Rosenberger on Foreign Interventions in U.S. Campaigns, “The Lawfare Podcast.” Interview with Director Laura Rosenberger

Glitches, Loopholes Dent Facebook Election Misinformation Efforts, AFP. Comments from Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer

How a Candidate Could Challenge the Outcome of the Election in Michigan, WZZM 13. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

Integrity Of Democratic Process A Focus In Little Rock, KUAR. Comments from Co-Directors Zack Cooper and Laura Rosenberger

Twitter Bots Promote Right-Wing Conspiracies, Paper Shows, Defense One. Comments from Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman

Election 2020: Disinformation Online Still Prevalent, Analysts Say, WLVT. Comments from Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer

How China’s ‘Wolf Warrior’ Diplomats Use and Abuse Twitter, Brookings’ Tech Stream. Written by Head of Policy and Research Jessica Brandt and Media and Digital Disinformation Fellow Bret Schafer

How to Respond to China’s Information Warfare, Real Clear World. Written by Co-Director Zack Cooper and Aine Tyrrell

EU “Troublemakers” Back Trump Over Biden in US Election, Euractiv. Comments from Senior Fellow Kristine Berzina

Filipino Americans Take Safeguards to Protect Their Votes in US Polls, Philippine Daily Inquirer. Comments from Elections Integrity Fellow David Levine

Voters’ Guide To Election Security In The 2020 Presidential Campaign,” NPR. Cites ASD research

The Cybersecurity 202: National Security Watch, The Washington Post. Covers Emerging Technologies Fellow Lindsay Gorman’s new report “A Future Internet for Democracies: Contesting China’s Push for Dominance in 5G, 6G, and the Internet of Everything”

Trolled on the Campaign Trail: Online Incivility and Abuse in Canadian Politics, the University of British Columbia. Written by Non-Resident Fellow Heidi Tworek and Chris Tenove

It Is Time to Transform the US-Japan Alliance, Nikkei Asia. Written by Co-Director Zack Cooper and Hal Brands

Quote of the Week

“The bulk of disinformation attacks prepared by our adversaries were designed for the days before & just after Election Day. They may come faster than they can be spotted & called out, so word to the wise, the more outlandish the claim, the likelier it’s foreign influence.”

  • Marco Rubio (R-FL) wrote in a tweet on October 28.

“This is an unusual election. Our intelligence community has warned that the period immediately before and after Election Day is going to be uniquely volatile, and our adversaries will seek to take advantage of that. Don’t make their jobs any easier. It may take awhile for the results to come in. That period of time is especially vulnerable to attack by foreign countries seeking to spread disinformation and undermine the legitimacy of our electoral process. Stay calm, and be judicious about what you believe and share online.”

  • Mark Warner (D-VA) wrote in a tweet on November 2.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.