Russia and Iran Obtained Voter Information to Meddle in Election, Federal Government Says

The email campaign was sent to voters in at least four states, including three swing states in the upcoming presidential election.

The email campaign was sent to voters in at least four states, including three swing states in the upcoming presidential election. Shutterstock

 

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Colorado aims to safely reopen ski resorts ... Wichita man accused of threatening mayor over mask ordinance is charged with criminal threat ... University of Michigan places students on lockdown as coronavirus surges.

National security officials on Wednesday night accused Iran of targeting American voters with misleading emails and warned that both Iran and Russia have obtained registration information about American voters that could be used to interfere in the upcoming presidential election.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said at a news conference that Iran was behind an intimidating email campaign that was made to appear to come from the far-right group Proud Boys and included a linked video that contained misinformation about voter fraud. Voter registration data can often be purchased or legally obtained from local election officials, although CNN reported that one source indicated some of the information was from sources that aren't publicly available. 

“This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos and undermine your confidence in American democracy,” he said. “We have already seen Iran sending spoof emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump. You may have seen some reporting on this in the last 24 hours, or you may have been one of the recipients of those emails.”

The messages were sent to registered voters from “info@officialproudboys.com” and warned recipients to “vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you.” The emails were received by voters in at least four states, including three swing states in the upcoming election.

Ratcliffe did not explain how those emails were intended to damage Trump and did not offer specific evidence to back up his claim that Iran was behind them. Democrats who received a briefing on the investigation emphasized that it didn’t seem likely that Trump was a target, with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer saying, “I had the strong impression it was much rather to undermine confidence in elections and not aimed at any particular figure.”

Iran on Thursday called the accusation “baseless,” and a spokesman for the nation’s mission at the United Nations told ABC News that “Iran has no interest in interfering in the U.S. election and no preference for the outcome.”

Sources told the Washington Post that the emails were written “at the behest of the Iranian government” and were designed to create the appearance of a data breach by suggesting that the Proud Boys had gained access to voting information, including potentially details about how individual citizens had voted. FBI Director Christopher Wray stressed on Wednesday that the integrity of the election remains intact.

“We are not going to tolerate foreign interference in our elections or any criminal activity that threatens the sanctity of your vote or undermines public confidence in the outcome of the election,” he said. “When we see indications of foreign interference or federal election crimes, we’re going to aggressively investigate and work with our partners to quickly take appropriate action.” [Washington Post, CNN, CNBC]

SAFE SKI SEASON | State health officials in Colorado released final guidance on how to safely open slopes for skiers and snowboarders. The list consists of a combination of common Covid-19 safety measures (physical distancing, wearing masks, tracking symptoms) and new initiatives (downsizing ski school groups, providing isolation housing for guests that need to quarantine). Resorts are encouraged to sell tickets online and by phone and to ask guests if they may have been exposed to someone who tested positive for Covid-19. The guidelines, developed with feedback from ski resorts and county health officials, also set requirements for ski areas to ensure that employee housing is safe and to establish a contingency plan to house both staff and visitors if extreme weather pops up. [Denver Post]

HOTEL QUARANTINE | The city of Honolulu reserved hundreds of rooms at two hotels in Waikiki to ensure that the island of Oahu has adequate quarantine space. Officials booked 221 rooms from Oct. 15 through Dec. 30 at the Park Shore Hotel in Waikiki for isolation space for people who have either been exposed to the novel coronavirus or are required to quarantine after travel. The city also reserved 46 additional units at the Waikiki Beachside for a second temporary quarantine center in collaboration with the Department of Health. The rooms have on-site parking and laundry, and will include health services, meals and basic housekeeping. The initiative comes after Hawaii reopened to travelers without requiring a mandatory two-week quarantine provided they can furnish a negative coronavirus test result. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said that he expects the city’s case count to climb as tourism returns. “How we control the spread is by isolation and quarantine,” he said. [West Hawaii Today]

MAYOR THREATENED | A man who allegedly planned to kidnap and kill Wichita’s mayor over the city’s mask ordinance was charged Tuesday with three counts of criminal threat. Meredith Dowty, 59, is accused of sending text messages to a city employee threatening to kill Mayor Brandon Whipple for his role in passing a city-wide mask mandate in an effort to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. Dowty, a retired firefighter, is being held on a $50,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in court again on Nov. 5. Dowty’s threats promoted Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly to plead with residents to tone down “anti-mask rhetoric.” “This is serious,” she said Monday. “We all need to get on the same page and work together.” [The Mirror]

STUDENT LOCKDOWN | Students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor were ordered to stay in place for two weeks after a surge of coronavirus cases driven by social gatherings threatened to overwhelm the ability of local health officials to contain the pandemic. More than a thousand students have tested positive for Covid-19 since the beginning of the fall term despite mostly online classes and crowd limits for social gatherings. Cases related to the university currently represent 61% of all cases in Washtenaw County, compared to just 2% in August, health officials said. Under the terms of the stay-in-place order, students can still attend in-person classes and also venture out for exercise, work, food, medical appointments, religious services and to vote. The order expires at 7 a.m. on Nov. 3. University President Mark Schlissel said that more classes would move online and that students who want to vacate campus housing for the duration of the semester will be eligible for refunds or credits. [Detroit Free Press]

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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