A Russian social media misinformation campaign targeting the 2018 midterm elections focused on voter fraud and suppression as one of several issues it hoped would stir up the electorate.
Federal prosecutors revealed details of the campaign when they charged Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, a 44-year-old Russian national they say managed the finances of a Russian campaign intended to “sow discord” before the 2018 midterms. The campaign she is charged with operating ran inflammatory posts from a mix of viewpoints, most of them reflecting Republican positions.
“This is the time for American conservatives to sound the alarm before the election turn the Constitution into a mockery and a celebration of lawlessness,” a member of the alleged conspiracy wrote. “There is an urgent need to introduce voter IDs for all the states, above all in blue (liberal and undecided) states. Remind that the majority of the ‘blue states’ have no VOTER IDs, which suggests that large-scale falsification are bound to be happening there.”
Several studies and investigations have shown that voter fraud is extremely rare, but the campaign echoed Republican talking points about voter fraud and voter ID laws, stoking fears that elections could be stolen.
The Russian emphasis on voter fraud and voting rights underscores how much the issues have become flashpoints in the 2018 midterms. President Donald Trump drew attention on the subject of voter fraud when he claimed, without evidence, that millions of people voted illegally in 2016. He convened a commission to examine the issue, but the probe didn’t find anything before he disbanded it after eight months amid several lawsuits and fighting among the commissioners. Although he has appointed nearly every U.S. attorney in the country, federal prosecutors haven’t found many suspects to charge with voter fraud.
One post from the alleged disinformation campaign pointed to a study by the conservative group Judicial Watch suggesting that 11 counties in California might have more people on their voting rolls than are eligible to vote.
A Twitter post from Feb. 8, said the “only way Democrats can win 101 GOP seats is to cheat like they always do with illegals & dead voters. On March 14, another account retweeted a post reading, “VOTER FRAUD IS A FELONY HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE FIGHT FIGHT .@realdonaldtrump .@POTUS.”
Trump has singled out California as rife with voter fraud, saying in April that millions of people were voting more than once there. There is no evidence to substantiate his claims about voter fraud in the state or during the 2016 election.
A Twitter post from Feb. 8, said the “only way Democrats can win 101 GOP seats is to cheat like they always do with illegals & dead voters. On March 14, another account retweeted a post reading, “VOTER FRAUD IS A FELONY HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE FIGHT FIGHT .@realdonaldtrump .@potus.”
One of the Russian accounts intended to target liberals touched on the issue of fraud, saying that “the last time a new Republican president was elected without electoral fraud was in 1988.” That seemed to be referring to the fact that Trump and George W. Bush took office after losing the popular vote, though Bush won the popular vote when he was re-elected in 2004.
Another Twitter post read, “Just a reminder that: -Majority black, Flint Michigan still has drinking water that will give you brain damage if consumed. -Republicans are still trying to keep black people from voting. - A terrorist has been targeting black families for assasination in Austin, Texas.”
In a joint statement, the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice and Office of the Director of National Intelligence said they had “no evidence of a compromise or disruption of infrastructure that would enable adversaries to prevent voting, change vote counts or disrupt our ability to tally votes in the midterm elections.”