clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Feds say hostile nations out to undermine ‘confidence in American democracy’: Here’s what you need to know

“We have identified that two foreign actors, Iran and Russia, have taken specific actions to influence public opinion relating to our elections,” said the director of National Intelligence.

Elizabeth Winfrey, of Salt Lake City, joins other voters as she casts her ballot in person at the Salt Lake County Government Center during the first day of early voting in Utah on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

Federal intelligence officials have accused two foreign governments of obtaining American voter registration information to create confusion and apprehension in the coming Nov. 3 elections.

“We have identified that two foreign actors, Iran and Russia, have taken specific actions to influence public opinion relating to our elections,” National Intelligence Director John Ratcliffe announced Wednesday.

Ratcliffe said that “some” voter registration information had been collected by the adversarial countries and that Iran had already began sending “spoofed emails” to voters. He said the data, which is generally public information, “can be used to by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos, and undermine your confidence in American democracy.”

Ratcliffe added that the government was prepared for the “possibility of actions by those hostile to democracy.”

The New York Times reported Thursday that American intelligence agencies hacked into Russian networks and believe that Russia is preparing to “interfere in the presidential race in its final days or immediately after the election.”

Unnamed intelligence officials told the Times, that there was “no evidence that the Russians have changed any vote tallies or voter registration information,” and that Russia’s “operations would be intended to help President Trump, potentially by exacerbating disputes around the results, especially if the race is too close to call.”

Iranians send threatening emails to voters

Voters in Florida, Arizona and Alaska received threatening “Vote for Trump or else!” emails this week, CBS News reported. These were allegedly the “spoofed emails” from Iranians mentioned by Ratcliffe.

“You are currently registered as a Democrat and we know this because we have gained access into the entire voting infrastructure,” one of the emails said, reported Alaska Public Media’s Nathaniel Herz. “You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you. Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply.”

According to emails shared with the radio station, the threats were sent from multiple email addresses, including “trumpdigitalsoldier11@hotmail.com” and “info@officialproudboys.com.”

A leader of the Proud Boys told CBS News that they were not involved with the emails. The organization — which described themselves as “western chauvinists” — also said it had been in contact with state and federal officials about the emails.

What voter information is public?

Voter lists, and varying amounts of an individual’s voter information, is generally considered public information, depending on individual state statutes,

In Utah, the public voter information is available to “qualified persons, including government officials/employees, a health care provider, an insurance company, a financial institution, a political party, or any person who agrees to certain confidentiality measures,” according to the National Conference of State Legislators.

According to a voter registration privacy notice from Utah Lt. Gov. office, “voter registration records contain some information that is available to the public, such as your name and address, some information that is available only to government entities, and some information that is available only to certain third parties in accordance with the requirements of law.”

“Your driver license number, identification card number, social security number, email address, and full date of birth are available only to government entities. Your year of birth is available to political parties, candidates for public office, certain third parties, and their contractors, employees, and volunteers, in accordance with the requirements of law,” the notice states.

Utah voters can formally request that this information remain confidential if “the person is or is likely to be, or resides with a person who is or is likely to be, a victim of domestic violence or dating violence” or a “law enforcement officer, a member of the armed forces, a public figure, or protected by a protective order or protection order.”

How do I know if I’m being targeted by ‘spoofed emails’?

The Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency has a website to help voters distinguish between real and fake political advertising. The website, titled “Rumor Control,” includes facts to separate rumor vs. reality and how to spot election disinformation and misinformation.

The agency says it is a false rumor that someone could influence an election by printing and sending fraudulent ballots. The reality is that “photocopying or home-printed ballots” are “highly difficult” to produce successfully. State and local election officials have checks and measures to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Another rumor is that someone can find out through election records who people voted for. The agency says elections laws in every state guarantee ballot secrecy.