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On election eve in the United States, a Russian oligarch boasts of interference, courts address a slew of early lawsuits, and even Canada adds to the mix with claims of Chinese interference in its 2019 election.

Illustration by iStock, Security Management

U.S. Election Day Commences with Plenty of Tumult

Voters in the United States will head to the polls today—at least those who have not already voted early or through the mail. At stake in the midterm elections is control of both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, as well as governorships in 36 states and three territories, several dozen state-wide ballot initiatives (with abortion and marijuana initiatives featuring prominently), and many other state and local offices.

Recent U.S. elections have been magnets for claims of controversy, and predictably, this one is following suit.

On 7 November, Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin claimed he is trying to influence the midterms despite U.S. government cyber agencies saying they have largely limited interference from Russian troll farms in U.S. election cycles.

“Gentlemen, we interfered,” he told Russian media. “We are interfering, and we will interfere. Carefully, precisely, surgically, and in our own way, as we know how to do.”

The Washington Post reported that Prigozhin operated troll farms doling out misinformation during the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, earning a sanction from the U.S. Treasury Department. Treasury also sanctioned him for attempting to meddle in the 2018 midterms. Britain and the European Union have also sanctioned Prigozhin.

U.S. authorities have not verified Prigozhin’s claim, which could be disinformation. A U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Prigozhin likely had permission to make the brazen comments.

An assessment of the 2020 U.S. election from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence determined that Russia mounted influence operations meant to hurt Joe Biden’s presidential bid while aiding President Donald Trump, as well as undermine public confidence in the electoral process. The same report found that China considered meddling in the 2020 election but decided against it.

Canada, on the other hand, announced yesterday that China had attempted to interfere in the 2019 Canadian election. Citing intelligence reports, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said China supported at least 11 candidates in the 2019 federal elections. The report said China had funneled money to the campaigns, and Chinese operatives acted as campaign advisors.

“We have taken significant measures to strengthen the integrity of our elections processes and our systems, and will continue to invest in the fight against election interference, and against foreign interference of our democracies and institutions,” Trudeau told reporters on Monday. “Unfortunately, we’re seeing countries, state actors from around the world, whether it’s China or others, are continuing to play aggressive games with our institutions, with our democracies.”

In addition to election interference, Trudeau said China sought to place operatives in the offices of Canadian members of Parliament and sought to corrupt other Canadian officials. The intelligence suggests China targeted both major Canadian political parties, the Liberal party and the Conservative party.

China denied the intelligence report and said Canada should cease making baseless claims.

Security Management dove into the work the U.S. government did to secure against foreign influence and meddling in the 2020 election. The U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said the U.S. election environment has grown more complex since then, complicated by widespread, wholly unfounded conspiracy theories that claim the 2020 election was tainted by massive fraud.

“Global rivals also are expected to deepen longstanding disinformation efforts,” the AP reports. “The tense geopolitical moment means Russia, Iran and China may have fewer qualms about trying to disrupt the conduct of elections in key battlegrounds with cyber operations.”

The lawsuits and fraud claims started at a furious pace before Election Day this year:

  • The Pennsylvania State Supreme Court ruled that mail-in ballots with minor oversights, such as lacking a date, may not be counted, forcing voters to scramble to fix mail-in ballots.

  • A court denied a Republican request to disallow absentee votes in Detroit.

  • An Arizona judge blocked a Republican request to conduct the 2022 election using only hand-counted ballots and not using voting machine tallies.

  • In Georgia’s Cobb County, a judge extended the deadline to return absentee ballots because election officials did not mail absentee ballots to some voters who requested them. The AP article does not mention any malicious or nefarious intent in what appears to be a simple oversight.

Along with foreign interference and cyber threats, election officials are also taking steps to address in-person harassment and intimidation of poll workers. Previous Security Management coverage found that election workers are facing heightened threats, and some polling places are scrambling to boost security to protect workers and election infrastructure on Election Day and afterwards in response to the rising level of harassment.

"Election officials who’ve been targeted online and law enforcement officials are bracing for another wave of threats on Election Day and its aftermath, when new claims of election fraud are expected to lead to more violent rhetoric online," according to The Washington Post.