Russia promoting distrust in US vote-by-mail plans

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Washington (AFP)

Russia is actively trying to undermine voters' faith in the US electoral system and especially in voting by mail ahead of the November 3 election, according to a Department of Homeland Security analysis Thursday.

The internal DHS analysis, first reported by ABC News and then other US media, says that at least since March 2020, "Russian malign influence actors have been amplifying allegations of election integrity issues in new voting processes and vote-by-mail programs."

It says that through media and social networks, the Russians have encouraged Americans to fear voting fraud, large counting errors and ballot mishandling by the postal service.

This argument is one that President Donald Trump hammers away at as he trails in the polls.

Russian media and proxy websites are also promoting the idea that voting by mail -- being pushed mainly to limit the risk of Covid-19 spreading via in-person voting -- is being pressed by officials and policy makers to benefit specific candidates.

The online meddling activity took place during the party caucuses and primaries at the beginning of the year, but ramped up as the coronavirus began to spread and officials began promoting widespread voting by mail.

"We assess that Russia is likely to continue amplifying criticisms of vote-by-mail and shifting voting processes amidst the Covid-19 pandemic to undermine public trust in the electoral process," the unclassified report said.

As in 2016, the Russians are often amplifying sentiments already present in US politics.

Trump and many Republicans claim that vote-by-mail is likely to lead to widespread fraud and questionable vote counts.

"Russia is echoing destructive and false narratives around vote by mail that President Trump and his enablers, including Attorney General Barr, have been aggressively promoting," said House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff said in a statement.

Separately, Democratic senators pressed the US Treasury Thursday to place sanctions "immediately" on Russian organizations and individuals for interfering in the election, saying intelligence shows Moscow is seeking to damage Trump rival Joe Biden's candidacy.

"It is long past time for the administration to send a direct message to President (Vladimir) Putin: the US will respond immediately and forcefully to continuing election interference," said the letter to Mnuchin.

"There is virtually no national security threat more serious than that posed by those who would undermine confidence in, and the effective operation of, our democratic elections," they wrote.

An August 7 statement from the National Counterintelligence and Security Center said Russia is actively working against Biden's candidacy, favoring Trump as it did in 2016.

"Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former vice president Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia 'establishment,'" the statement said.

Since then, however, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe has refused to provide any more briefings to Congress on election meddling, saying he would simply send written summaries.