US warns 'foreign actors' aim to sow doubts over mail-in voting

Voting by mail has become a divisive issue in the US.
Voting by mail has become a divisive issue in the US.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US federal law enforcement and cybersecurity agencies on Tuesday (Sept 22) warned that "foreign actors" will likely try to discredit the November presidential election by taking advantage of the slow counting of mail-in ballots.

Americans are expected to submit mail-in ballots in record numbers for the Nov 3 contest between President Donald Trump, a Republican, and his Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

Many voters see mail-in ballots as a safer way to vote during the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 200,000 Americans. But mail ballots typically take longer to count than ballots cast in person.

This "could leave officials with incomplete results on election night," the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency said in a joint public service announcement.

"Foreign actors and cybercriminals could exploit the time required to certify and announce elections' results by disseminating disinformation that includes reports of voter suppression, cyber attacks targeting election infrastructure, voter or ballot fraud," the two agencies said.

This could come in the form of new websites or social media content, they said. The aim would be to "discredit the electoral process and undermine confidence in US democratic institutions."

The Biden campaign is bracing for the prospect that while early results might favour Trump, the lead could shift because Democrats are expected to vote by mail in larger numbers, which they fear will prompt Trump to complain the contest is being stolen, people close to the Biden campaign have said.

Voting by mail has become a divisive issue. Trump has repeatedly warned without citing evidence that the practice is rife with fraud and that Democrats would use mail ballots to rig the election.

Still, Trump's campaign has urged the president's supporters to also request absentee ballots.

Biden currently leads in most national public opinion polls but a close contest is expected.