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FBI director casts doubt on concerns over mail-in voting fraud

FBI director casts doubt on concerns over mail-in voting fraud
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FBI Director Christopher Wray on Thursday cast doubts on concerns raised by some conservatives that mail-in voting could pose an increased chance of voter fraud, with Wray telling a Senate committee that widespread voter fraud would be a “major challenge” for a foreign adversary to pull off.

“We have not seen, historically, any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election whether it’s by mail or otherwise,” Wray testified to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee during a hearing on threats to the homeland. “We have seen voter fraud at the local level from time to time, so my comments should in no way be construed as minimizing how seriously we take our responsibility to investigate such incidents.”

Wray noted that the issue of voter fraud “is on our radar, certainly to change a federal election outcome by mounting that fraud at scale would be a major challenge for an adversary, but people should make no mistake, we are vigilant as to the threat and watching it carefully because we are in uncharted new territory.”

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When questioned by committee ranking member Sen. Gary PetersGary PetersThe Hill's Morning Report - President Biden, Vice President Harris begin work today Two Senate committees vow probe of security failure during Capitol riots US government caught blindsided over sophisticated cyber hack, experts say MORE (D-Mich.) on whether the FBI was monitoring any potential threats despite the lack of voter fraud tracked this year, Wray emphasized that “it’s something we would investigate seriously, aggressively.”

Wray’s comments came after mail-in voting has faced months of criticism from top officials, including President TrumpDonald TrumpIran's leader vows 'revenge,' posting an image resembling Trump Former Sanders spokesperson: Biden 'backing away' from 'populist offerings' Justice Dept. to probe sudden departure of US attorney in Atlanta after Trump criticism MORE.

The president has cast doubt on the safety and security of mail-in voting during a year when election officials are expecting to see a record number of ballots cast through the mail due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history,” Trump tweeted in July. “It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”

More recently, Twitter and Facebook both flagged posts from Trump suggesting that his supporters attempt top vote both via mail-in ballot and in-person. Both Trump and first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpScorned and mistreated, Melania Trump deserved much better from the media The Hill's Morning Report - Biden takes office, calls for end to 'uncivil war' K Street navigates virtual inauguration week MORE cast absentee ballots in the Florida primary elections in August. 

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The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) have taken steps this week to push out information to the public on election threats and minimize concerns. 

The agencies put out a public service announcement Thursday, this time emphasizing that while hackers were targeting election systems, cyber threats to elections had the potential to slow down but not fully prevent voting. 

“The FBI and CISA have no reporting to suggest cyber activity has prevented a registered voter from casting a ballot, compromised the integrity of any ballots cast, or affected the accuracy of voter registration information,” the agencies wrote in the alert. 

“However, even if actors did achieve such an impact, the public should be aware that election officials have multiple safeguards and plans in place— such as provisional ballots to ensure registered voters can cast ballots, paper backups, and backup pollbooks—to limit the impact and recover from a cyber incident with minimal disruption to voting,” the agencies wrote. “The FBI and CISA continue to assess that attempts to manipulate votes at scale would be difficult to conduct undetected.”

The alert Thursday followed a separate PSA from the two agencies on Tuesday warning that foreign actors and cybercriminals would likely attempt to spread disinformation casting doubts around election results in November. 

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The agencies encouraged voters to look to state and local election websites and officials for accurate information on how and where to vote and on election results, advice that Wray emphasized to the Senate panel on Thursday. 

“When it comes to information about their vote itself, where to vote, when to vote, hours at the polling places, things like that, it is very important that Americans get that information from their official state or local election websites as opposed to relying on something that might be on social media for example,” Wray testified.

“I would encourage people to be critical thinkers and get their news from a variety of sources and make up their own mind, be a skeptical, discerning electorate, which I think is the best defense against malign foreign influence and disinformation,” he added. 

Wray's testimony came as election threats have increased ahead of November, with a senior official at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence recently assessing that foreign actors in Russia, China and Iran were looking to interfere in the presidential election. 

Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerBipartisan Senate gang to talk with Biden aide on coronavirus relief Social media posts, cellphone data aid law enforcement investigations into riots 'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate MORE (D-Va.) on Thursday sought to reassure voters, putting out a statement urging voters to “have faith” in election officials and in the efforts of the CISA and the Intelligence Community to ensure the safety and security of elections. 

By contrast, Warner criticized Trump’s recent comments around the election process. 

The president of the United States should not be aiding and abetting foreign adversaries who are working to sow doubts about the legitimacy of the American election system,” Warner said.