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Despite fears of election interference, why authorities say vote is secure

Election security, voter intimidation and foreign interference have represented major concerns during this 2020 campaign. William Brangham and Nick Schifrin have been following these issues closely, and they join Judy Woodruff to discuss preparation measures, law enforcement’s role and why most election authorities are urging voters to have confidence in the results.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Concerns about election security, voter intimidation, foreign interference and the ability of election officials across the country to secure the vote have been a major focus of the 2020 election, as we have been hearing.

    Our correspondents William Brangham and Nick Schifrin have been following these issues closely. And they join me now.

    So, hello to both of you.

    And, William, to you first.

    What are election officials mainly worried about that you talk to?

  • William Brangham:

    Well, there is certainly the concern about cyber-intrusion, somehow getting in, penetrating the elections infrastructure by which people cast their votes tomorrow or those votes get counted. So far, we have seen really minimal instances of that.

    There's this other question of in person threats to voters. Yamiche touched in her piece earlier about these very aggressive events that happened over the week weekend. The Trump campaign has been recruiting what they call the Trump army.

    And these are volunteers who are being deputized to go to the polls tomorrow to watch out for what they think are irregularities. And the question about that is, how much training do these people have? Do they know what the rules are?

    Because how much of this could bleed into voter intimidation? And there are very specific rules and laws against that. And you can really get into a lot of trouble if you hassle with voters when they're trying to cast their vote.

    It's worth noting there haven't really been many of these instances in person. And that's good news. The DOJ again said that they're going to send poll monitoring groups to 18 different states to look at this.

    But, for the most part, if there are problems like this, there are hot lines for voters to contact to alert authorities. And, for the most part, it's state and local police that respond to those kinds instances.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it's so important to be watching all this.

    So, Nick, you, meanwhile, have been talking to the military. What are officials saying to you about the election?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    As William just said, the primary responsibility for election security will fall on local police.

    And the military at the highest levels are trying not to get involved in the election. They're trying to avoid the president federalizing the National Guard or invoking the Insurrection Act, which would allow active-duty troops to conduct law enforcement duties in the country in the case of post-election violence.

    Defense officials argue there are ample law enforcement officials across the country to deal with violence, but also the National Guard, who can be called up by governors. And we are seeing governors already call up the National Guard. We're going to see Guardsmen in polling stations, where there's a shortage of polling workers. They're going to be in civilian clothes. They will be unarmed.

    We are also going to see Guardsmen helping with cybersecurity in a handful of states. And we will also see the Guard having a regional response unit in case there is violence after the election. That would be conducted, again, by the governors, and not the federal authorities.

    But in Washington, D.C., the National Guard is controlled by the Pentagon, by the president. And there's a lot of concern since this image in June. That is a D.C. National Guard helicopter hovering over protests. The D.C. National Guard tells me today that they have no intention of doing this again, and that they are not on any special standby for the election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It certainly feels like a higher level of security than anything we have seen before an Election Day.

    But, Nick, separately from all that, you have been talking to the intelligence community, which is watching out for foreign interference. What are you hearing? What's the latest on that?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, we got a tour from the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity Division just a few days ago, trying to emphasize that this is the largest effort to secure a U.S. election in U.S. history.

    The intelligence community is most concerned about Russia, but also Iran, spreading disinformation, false claims that votes have been altered or the defacement of a Web site to spread a false result.

    They're also concerned about cyberattacks designed to temporarily disable voting computers. And they are concerned about infrastructure attacks after the election, especially if the election is close.

    But the intelligence community emphasizes that there is no attack that they believe could alter the vote nationally, and a senior defense official tonight trying to instill that confidence as well, saying — quote — "There is no evidence a foreign adversary has gained access to election infrastructure. And, given the size, complexity and diversity of America's electoral system, no country has the ability to change the outcome of the election," Judy, trying to instill confidence before Election Day.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That is certainly reassuring, at least, to this point.

    Nick Schifrin, thank you.

    And, William, finally, domestically, back to domestic, a lot of concern about violence, about voter intimidation in connection with everything else we have been talking about.

    What is your sense of that right now?

  • William Brangham:

    That's right, Judy.

    There is this concern about these militia or so-called patriot groups and what they might do, whether they hear the president's call to watch the polls, and whether they show up.

    I mean, certainly after this plot against the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, there's been an increased attention to organizations like that.

    There was a report yesterday about a militia-seeming group in Oregon that was stopping people who were trying to drop off their ballots at a mail drop box, and questioning them. They were wearing weapons. I mean, according to all legal experts, that is clear, demonstrable voter intimidation, and it's illegal. The police were notified.

    But I think, again, it's really important to stress that we shouldn't let these isolated cases be exaggerated in any way, because, as we have all talked about, tens of millions of Americans have already cast their ballots. Yes, a lot of people had to wait in long lines. And that is a problem.

    But it is important to note that we shouldn't be letting fear keep people from the ballots, because these instances, so far at least, have been quite rare.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right.

    So important, of course, that we report on this, but that we remind people that, by and large, in a vast majority of cases, it is safe to go and cast your ballot.

    William Brangham, Nick Schifrin, thank you both.

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