Violent threats against local election workers, particularly in battleground states like Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, are concerning US officials, as they evaluate possible security threats to the upcoming midterm elections. “We are very, very intensely focused on election security,” Department of Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters this week, according to The Wall Street Journal. Top election concerns include a growing wave of physical threats directed toward election workers, in addition to disinformation campaigns and cyber operations launched by foreign entities, the Journal noted.
Senior FBI officials said in a separate briefing on Monday that most of the threats against election workers involve seven swing states (Colorado, Michigan, and Nevada also made its list), according to USA Today. FBI director Christopher Wray previously said that threats of politically-motivated violence in the US are being driven, in part, by disputes related to the 2020 election. Notably, per USA Today, the officials Monday did not explicitly name Donald Trump or his Republican allies, who have continued to promote a disinformation campaign, blaming his 2020 election defeat on widespread voter fraud and a vast Democratic conspiracy. But as Eric Lutz wrote for Vanity Fair in June, the Republican National Committee has essentially been “institutionalizing” these election lies by reportedly “recruiting and training poll watchers to contest votes and building a network of party-friendly attorneys to help them.”
Since it was set up in June 2021, the Justice Department’s Election Threats Task Force has received more than 1,000 reports of hostility or harassment, with roughly 11% of those threats meeting the threshold for federal criminal investigations, the DOJ said in August. As of August 1, the reported threats, which reportedly range from fake bomb threats to online harassment, have resulted in four federal cases being charged by the task force. “This is a more complex threat environment than what occurred in 2020 or that we’ve ever seen because of the various components of threat,” Jen Easterly, who heads the cybersecurity agency at DHS, said Monday, per the Journal, before adding that “unprecedented levels of threats and harassment targeting election officials” have taken place this election cycle.
Some election officials have also expressed concerns that disruptive actors, moonlighting as poll workers, could tamper with voting equipment, turn away voters, or otherwise provoke chaos on Election Day, as Politico reported Tuesday. Speaking to a crowd in January, Ryan Kelley, a far-right candidate who ran a failed gubernatorial campaign in Michigan, reportedly went so far as to encourage poll workers to unplug election equipment if they “see something you don’t like happening,” while county-level GOP leaders in the state have reportedly urged poll workers to illicitly bring their smartphones to polling or ballot-counting centers and document what they see.
Federal authorities are also keeping tabs on any foreign threats to the election. In the Monday briefing, the senior FBI officials also addressed attempted efforts by Russia, China, and Iran to amplifying election-fraud conspiracy theories meant to sow distrust in US democracy. The Associated Press said Monday it obtained an unclassified US intelligence advisory claiming that China is likely working to influence a number of midterm races in the hopes of hindering “candidates perceived to be particularly adversarial to Beijing.” That said, the officials said in the briefing that they have not detected any serious threats to US election infrastructure.
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