Free and fair (so far): Robocalls but no evidence of election hacking

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Washington: Voters in several US states have received mysterious robocalls urging them to stay home on election day, according to state and party officials.

Even so, with more than half the expected number of American ballots already cast, there is so far little sign of the digital interference long dreaded by those charged with keeping the vote safe.

Election inspector Ron Takala processes ballots as the counting of absentee votes begins at City Hall in Warren, Michigan.Credit:AP

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” said Christopher Krebs, a senior Department of Homeland Security official who is a leading government spokesman on election security.

He described election day as “halftime” – and warned there may be other activities or efforts still to come that interfere with the integrity of the election.

Worries that a foreign power might seek to intervene in the 2020 vote have been circulating ever since the election in 2016, when Russian hackers dumped tens of thousands of emails online to sway the vote towards Republican Donald Trump and away from Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton.

But those worries did not materialise as more than 99 million Americans cast their ballots in an unprecedented wave of early voting – well on the way to the 160 million expected by experts.

Speaking alongside Krebs, the acting US Department of Homeland Security secretary, Chad Wolf, confirmed that there was no evidence that "a foreign actor has succeeded in compromising or manipulating any votes in this election."

There were, however, signs of more traditional threats in form of machine breakdowns and malicious robocalls.

Authorities and party officials in swing states – including Iowa, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida – reported a spike of automated phone calls warning voters away for the polls for a variety of bogus reasons.

"Getting reports of multiple robocalls going to Flint residents that, due to long lines, they should vote tomorrow," Michigan Attorney-General Dana Nessel said on Twitter.

"Obviously this is FALSE and an effort to suppress the vote."

There were technical glitches too.

In Spalding County, Georgia, voting systems were down, elections supervisor Marcia Ridley told local media.

Local media reports said provisional ballots were being sent to polling stations so people could still vote, and two US officials told Reuters the problems were consistent with a malfunction.

"It appears to be a typical technology challenge," one said.

Voters fill out their ballots in Tulsa, Oklahoma.Credit:AP

In his comments to journalists, Krebs reminded voters that technical problems were not unexpected – and to steer clear of rumours and unverified information.

"Remember, sometimes technology fails and breaks," he said.

He and Wolf advised patience as Americans await the results, which – given the disruptions connected to the COVID-19 pandemic and the flood of mail-in voting – could take days to come into focus.

"It is important to recognise this process may require time," Wolf said.


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