LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- Preparations were underway at the Little Rock FBI Field Office months before early voting was underway, and special agents helped organize a coordinated statewide effort so that Arkansans can cast their ballots confidently on Election Day.
The FBI spearheaded the effort, opening a command post that operates through November 4, the day after the election.
Special agents working in a number of divisions, including the cyber, counter-terrorism, counter-intelligence, criminal and corruption divisions, have prepared for months.
“We’ve been working over the last several months with headquarters, as well as the Secretary of State here in Arkansas, Department of Homeland Security, as well as other state and local law enforcement partners,” explained Supervisory Special Agent Todd Adams.
Individual states are mainly responsible for their own elections but the FBI works to prevent violations of constitutional rights. Federal election crimes investigated by the FBI fall into three broad categories: voter or ballot fraud, civil rights violations, and campaign finance offenses. Despite that, the FBI works closely with state-and-local agencies to protect the integrity of elections.
“Recently we just did a tabletop with our partners to make sure that we’re doing this as we go, and not on game day,” Adams said. “We’re prepared for this up to the day and we’re going to continue through the election, and we’re going to go to November.”
Other partners include postal inspectors, Department of Homeland Security, Arkansas State Police and local law enforcement agencies.
During the tabletop exercises, officials were given a variety of scenarios agencies could be faced with on Election Day, and planned out responses to those issues.
“[For Example] If there’s any cyber-related issues that we see, a disruption in polling, or if we have voter intimidation of people coming to the polls,” Adams elaborated. “To keep people from voting, or trying to pay people for their votes, or maybe cause confusion of when they can vote or how they can vote.”
Some of the tabletop focused on how federal agents could help local partners, for example, were there to be an attack at a polling location, and agents were to act in a support capacity.
The command post was up and running Monday morning prior to Election Day. Agents and other partners field tips and look through online posts that may need investigating.
“That’s where we bring in all the analytical ability, the agents, the experts that are going to be working this,” Adams said. “The election crime coordinators, as well as me as a supervisor. We’re going to be reviewing all the leads that come in.”
One major thing the FBI is on the lookout for is voter intimidation.
“I know there have been reports of people saying, ‘I see you have this sign in your yard. If you vote, if they win this part of the election, then you’re going to pay for it,’” Adams explained.
Adams said that could be a civil rights violation, “If they’re trying to cause you or threaten you harm to vote a certain way, that’s something we’re interested in hearing about.”
Some harm to the American election process isn’t stateside, though. Supervisory Special Agent Ryan Kennedy is focused on foreign counterintelligence. Specifically, foreign countries meddling, trying to cause chaos.
“Governments that are trying to influence our election, or influence the way people are thinking about our elections,” Kennedy said. “We’re seeing it across social media platforms already. The same as we did back in 2016.”
During the 2016 election Americans were warned of Russian interference. The 2020 cycle has seen that interference expand.
“Iran has been a recent player in this arena,” Kennedy said. “They have taken a page clearly from Russia’s playbook. But we’ve really seen them more active during this election cycle.”
The main arena being targeted is the Internet; more specifically, social media.
“Don’t be looking for information that was shared for a friend who knows somebody,” according to Kennedy. “That’s usually a sign that it is a foreign government or a foreign agency trying to influence information.”
In some cases, voters are being told they can cast their ballots over text message or email. Neither of these will be valid methods of voting, and neither will count in the election.
“In terms of social media, people need to be getting information from valid news sources,” Kennedy said. “Whether it’s local news agencies or national agencies. Memes are not valid news sources. News agencies are valid news sources.”
The FBI wants to hear from Arkansans who may experience a violation of their constitutional rights during the election. To report a tip, voters can walk into the Little Rock FBI Field Office at 24 Shackleford W Blvd. in Little Rock, they can call 501-221-9100 or email fbi.gov. The FBI asked that citizens not send tips via social media like Twitter and Facebook.
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