Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said that his department’s priority on Election Day is ensuring that U.S. voters, not foreign adversaries, decide the elections and that DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency remained on high alert but had seen no evidence that foreign actors have compromised any of the votes cast.
“The Department of Homeland Security has many missions across the national security spectrum, but one of the most important is securing our electoral process, and we take this responsibility seriously because we recognize that protecting and securing elections is fundamental to maintaining a functioning democracy. Recognizing the threats posed to our democratic system, President Trump directed DHS, CISA, and the entire federal government to utilize all the tools we have available to make sure that each American can cast their ballots and know their vote will count,” Wolf said during a short press briefing on Tuesday. “Our top priority at DHS and CISA is to ensure that American voters decide American elections. We believe that it is absolutely critical that our democratic process is free of foreign or undue influence here at home or abroad. That said, we recognize that we face a multitude of foreign interference threats against our election infrastructure. For example, we know that our foreign adversaries, including China, Iran, and Russia, would like nothing more than to manipulate our democratic process for their own benefit. But let me be clear: Our election infrastructure is resilient, and we have no indications that a foreign actor has succeeded in compromising or affecting the actual votes cast in this election.”
Wolf made his remarks from CISA’s in-person operations center in Arlington, Virginia, where members of federal agencies such as the FBI, the Pentagon, the intelligence community, and the Postal Service will be collaborating with representatives from the National Association of Secretaries of State, the National Association of State Election Directors, the Elections Assistance Commission, political parties, and social media and election technology companies throughout the day.
CISA Director Christopher Krebs also spoke, estimating that 105 million votes had already been cast as of early Tuesday morning and predicting a total turnout that could reach 150 million or more, well beyond the 138 million who voted in 2016.
“Happy Election Day, or, as I say, ‘Happy last day to vote.’ … I have confidence that the vote is secure, the count is secure, and the results will be secure. We have seen some attempts by foreign actors — Iran and Russia — to attempt to interfere in the 2020 election. We have addressed those threats quickly, comprehensively, and publicly,” Krebs said. “We’re not out of the woods yet, though. Today, in some sense, is halftime. There may be other events or activities or efforts to interfere and undermine confidence in the election. So, I’d ask all Americans to be patient, to treat all sensational and unverified claims with skepticism, and remember, technology sometimes fails and breaks. We are already seeing some early indications of system disruption, so, again, I ask you to be patient, to seek trusted sources of information, and that’s going to be your state and local election officials.”
Krebs added: “The last thing I’d mention is that regardless of the outcome here, there is a common bond amongst us all that is stronger than political affiliation, and that’s that we are all Americans. So, I’d ask that you treat your brothers and sisters out there with kindness and respect in the coming days, and keep calm, vote on, and then, after today, keep calm, and let them count on.”
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and FBI Director Christopher Wray held a surprise press conference in October warning that Russia and Iran had gained access to U.S. voter registration information.
Ratcliffe announced, “We have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran and separately by Russia” and that “this data can be used by foreign actors to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos, and undermine your confidence in American democracy.” Wray stressed voters should be confident that their votes would count.
Intimidating emails claiming to be from the right-wing Proud Boys group but sent by the Iranians instead had been sent to hundreds of voters in numerous counties in Florida, seemingly targeting Democrats. The emails said, in part, that “you will vote for Trump on Election Day, or we will come after you.”
William Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, stressed last week, “We’re very confident that our adversaries will not be able to manipulate any votes or change any votes at scale.”
Evanina released the intelligence community’s assessment on foreign election interference in early August, warning that Russia is “using a range of measures to primarily denigrate” former Vice President Joe Biden, including that Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Derkach “is spreading claims about corruption — including through publicizing leaked phone calls — to undermine” the 2020 Democratic nominee. The same statement also that said China “prefers” that Trump not win reelection and is “expanding its influence efforts ahead of November 2020.” Evanina also said that Iran “seeks to undermine” Trump’s presidency.
Senior CISA officials said during another Tuesday morning press briefing that DHS has seen cyberefforts largely from the Iranians and some attempts by the Russians, too, but that no voter data has been altered and that the CISA remains confident in the vote, the voting process, and the vote count. The officials did warn that foreign adversaries might try to carry out website defacements or carry out denial-of-service efforts or other highly visible attacks intended to confuse, distract, and undermine confidence in the process.
And, when asked about voting machine failures and delays in battlegrounds such as Ohio’s Franklin County and Georgia’s Spalding County, the officials said that at this point, the glitches appear to be typical challenges with election technology, that there was no indication of malicious cyberactivity, that backups such as paper ballots should be readily available, and that they were in communication with local officials as they work to resolve the issues.
The CISA officials said that the agency had already been in an enhanced coordination posture for 45 days before the election and would remain in that posture for another 45 days or beyond as needed. The Justice Department also announced Monday that it was sending officials from the Civil Rights Division to 44 jurisdictions across 18 states, including the battlegrounds of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin, to monitor for compliance with federal voting rights laws on Election Day.
President Trump defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton 304-227 in the Electoral College in 2016 in what took many pundits and pollsters by surprise. The current RealClearPolitics polling average shows Biden at 50.7% and Trump at 44% nationally, and, with no toss-ups, its map shows Biden ahead of Trump 319-219 in its Electoral College projection. FiveThirtyEight gives Biden an 89 chance in 100 of winning and Trump a 10 chance in 100 of winning, with a 1 chance in 100 that the race ends in an Electoral College tie and is decided by state delegations in the House of Representatives. It is unlikely that the full results of the race will be known on Tuesday, in part due to the high volume of mail-in votes.
Robert Mueller’s special counsel report concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in a “sweeping and systematic fashion,” but it “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.”
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