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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 Charles PetersThe Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in Jaime Harrison raises million in two weeks for South Carolina Senate bid BlackPAC rolls out Senate race endorsements for the first time 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 John TrumpGiuliani goes off on Fox Business host after she compares him to Christopher Steele Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska NYT: Trump had 7 million in debt mostly tied to Chicago project forgiven 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 TrumpThe Hill's Campaign Report: One week from Election Day | Biden looks to expand map | Trump trails narrowly in Florida, Arizona Melania Trump focuses on coronavirus in return to campaign trail Watch live: Melania Trump holds MAGA event 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 WarnerSenate Intel leadership urges American vigilance amid foreign election interference Intel officials say Iran, Russia seeking to influence election Senate Intel leaders warn of election systems threats 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.