Intelligence Community Says Foreign Countries Not Trying To Make Counterfeit Ballots

Aug 26, 2020
Originally published on August 26, 2020 5:23 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

President Trump has made it clear he does not want states to expand voting by mail during the pandemic, especially in situations where the state government is deciding to mail ballots to all registered voters. Here's Trump in an interview with ABC15 Phoenix last week.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's ripe for fraud. It will be fraud. It'll be a bad thing.

CHANG: But during an election security briefing today, the FBI says it has seen no evidence at all that this is the case. NPR's Miles Parks covers voting and election security for NPR, and he joins us now.

Hey, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: So give us more detail about this briefing you were listening in on today.

PARKS: Yeah. So this is part of the federal government's efforts to be more transparent around election security as a whole. You remember after the 2016 election and the Russian interference that happened then, there was a lot of publicity about the federal government not being transparent enough with local and state governments but also with the public.

So today we heard from officials from the cyber arm of the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. We heard about the preparation that's underway for the next few months of the election season and about the influence efforts that they are seeing right now, still, from countries like Russia and China. Officials do say they have not seen the sort of targeted cyberattacks on voting infrastructure that we saw in 2016. But we didn't get a whole lot more specific from the cyber perspective than that.

CHANG: OK. Well, what about voting by mail? What did you hear on this briefing about the possibility of fraud when it comes to mail-in voting?

PARKS: FBI officials were really clear. They say they have not seen any evidence of any coordinated vote-by-mail fraud schemes in elections this year. Normally, you know, this would not be news. We've heard for years from election experts that there isn't widespread fraud in U.S. elections. And states have been conducting all-mail elections for years with no real problems. But obviously, President Trump has spent a lot of the past few months railing against mail voting. And even Attorney General William Barr - who, it's worth noting, you know, as head of the Justice Department, leads the FBI as well - said this summer that he was worried about foreign nations counterfeiting mail ballots.

But today, the FBI officials were asked specifically about this, and they said they've seen no nation-state activity at all regarding mail ballots. And they even noted that any sort of, you know, broad-based fraud scheme would just be incredibly difficult to pull (inaudible). Don't expect to see it.

CHANG: OK. Well, despite what you heard during this briefing, President Trump has been very vocal about his claims about fraud and voting by mail. Again, there's no evidence to back up his claims. But how much are we seeing his rhetoric already affecting people's voting behavior?

PARKS: It seems to be having a huge effect. Frankly, it just seems like, in this election season, we're going to see Democrats voting by mail a lot more than Republicans. We're seeing it in two places - first, in the mail request numbers from states that released these numbers - notably Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina - all battleground states, it's worth noting. In Florida, Democrats are up more than 660,000 mail ballot requests. In Pennsylvania, Democrats are doubling Republican requests. And in North Carolina, they're tripling them.

So this matches what we're seeing in polls, which is that, you know, Trump supporters are significantly less likely to say they want to vote by mail. In a new Pew study, 17% of Trump supporters say they want to vote by mail this election season compared to almost 60% of Biden supporters. And it's worth noting as well - this didn't used to be a partisan issue when you talked to election experts. This is really, really new - this breakdown between Democrats and Republicans.

CHANG: That is NPR's Miles Parks.

Thank you, Miles.

PARKS: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.