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Local election officials say the Biden administration needs to do more to keep them safe

By 37ci3 Apr5,2024


Local election officials are seeking help from the Biden administration to fight misinformation about voting. So far, there has been little help.

Fears of interference with free speech have hampered some government efforts to suppress false rumors spread by Donald Trump. Meanwhile, local election officials are constantly receiving threats.

Election officials across the country are calling on the Biden administration to do more to ensure their security ahead of November’s presidential election, but Biden administration officials say their ability to combat election-related disinformation is often hampered by free speech considerations.

Disinformation spreading across the country and threats to the safety of election officials by former President Donald Trump have forced many to look for new jobs. For example, in South Carolina 70 percent of election administrators They left the job after the 2020 elections. Election officials in Washington state say they were sent fentanyl in the mail. And in Philadelphia, city commissioners who oversee elections have received threats every year since the 2020 election.

Philadelphia City Commissioner Omar Sabir.
City Commissioner Omar Sabir on June 23, 2021 in Philadelphia.Linda So / Reuters

Chairman Omar Sabir recently received an email from someone telling him that Philadelphia’s polling centers will have anonymous monitors to make sure everyone is allowed to vote legally.

“We have insiders who are going to be scammers this time, and those who break the law will be sent to federal prison,” the email said.

In 2020, city officials received a phone call from a person who said “black lives matter and corrupt Democrats and election officials engaged in voter fraud.” We are 1,000 steps ahead of you and you are walking in a straight line.”

A 2023 survey by the Brennan Center for Justice found that more than 85 percent of local election officials want to see the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), which is responsible for advising local officials on election security. do more to dispel election-related disinformation.

Some misinformation was spread by former President Trump.

Speaking in Iowa in December, Trump told supporters, “The most important part, what’s going on, is to protect the vote. And you have to go to Detroit, you have to go to Philadelphia and you have to go to some of these places, you have to go to Atlanta,” he said. “And we hear these sounds when they come in, you know, wheelies and get thrown down and everybody’s like, ‘What’s going on?’ we have to watch while saying”.

Donald Trump.
Donald Trump on December 2, 2023 in Ankeny, Iowa.Scott Olson/Getty Images file

The Biden administration has taken no action to respond to Trump’s baseless claim that votes were cast by wheelbarrows.

A senior Justice Department official explained that the FBI’s response to voting misinformation is “very situational.”

“It really depends on what kind of disinformation or election threat we’re talking about and whether it’s a federal crime,” he said.

In an interview with NBC News on Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said DHS is working “very closely” with election officials and law enforcement to “ensure the integrity of the election process and ensure the physical security of election workers.”

“To make sure that this foundational cornerstone of our democracy goes before it should with integrity, safety and security,” Mayorkas said.

CISA also issued its Rumor vs. Reality refutes disinformation about elections on its website.

“CISA works closely with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the FBI to share information about foreign adversary tactics and provide guidance on mitigation measures to protect election infrastructure, including ways to mitigate risks to election infrastructure,” said CISA Senior Counsel Cait Conley. generative AI.”

But election security experts say the Biden administration is actually doing less to combat disinformation than the Trump administration, especially when it comes to alerting social media companies.

“There’s no question that there’s been a pushback, especially in the last year, from federal agencies, both in terms of what they’ve seen around foreign interference and elections, when they’re communicating with social media companies,” said Lawrence Norden, director of elections. & Government Program at the Brennan Center. “And, more so, in the last few years, unfortunately, even the election has pushed back against rumors and misinformation.”

Norden says the main reason for this is a Missouri federal judge’s decision last year that overturned the US government’s approach to combating online disinformation.

The judge ruled that DHS and other agencies violated the First Amendment by intimidating social media platforms. Although the decision was put on hold pending an appeal, the Biden administration stopped reporting foreign disinformation to Meta, Google and other companies, NBC News reported. informed. Recently, the F.B.I continued some help companies and most Supreme Court justices he looked skeptical the notion that the government cannot flag misinformation on social media. But many experts say the litigation has made it harder for US officials to combat disinformation.

Two people familiar with recent discussions told NBC News that there is some movement within the Biden administration to do more.

In addition, the Senate Intelligence Committee received a classified briefing on election security, but “people didn’t come away feeling like they knew who was in charge,” said a person familiar with the briefing.

Federal officials said they would let local officials take the lead, an answer that did not satisfy senators, the source said.



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