Tracking Voting Irregularities Across the U.S.

(Bloomberg) -- Here’s the latest news on election integrity from Washington, Silicon Valley and America’s more than 170,000 polling places as U.S. voters decide whether the Republican Party will retain control of Congress:

Facebook Acts as Russia Links Seen (12:48 a.m. ET)

Facebook Inc. says the accounts it deleted Monday, after a tip from U.S. authorities, may have been related to Russia’s Internet Research Agency, which was accused in a federal indictment in February of trying to interfere in the 2016 election.

“Last night, following a tip off from law enforcement, we blocked over 100 Facebook and Instagram accounts due to concerns that they were linked to the Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) and engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior, which is banned from our services,” Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cyber security policy, said in a statement. “This evening a website claiming to be associated with the IRA published a list of Instagram accounts they claim to have created. We had already blocked most of these accounts yesterday, and have now blocked the rest.”

Meanwhile, federal authorities detected no cybersecurity compromises of election infrastructure on Tuesday, a Department of Homeland Security official said early Wednesday morning.

DHS will focus on maintaining integrity as election results are finalized, a process that can take weeks. During that time, new actors have an opportunity to try to spread propaganda or cast doubt on the election’s integrity, the official said.

Information sharing among election officials has increased since 2016. On Tuesday, 45 states participated in the National Situation Awareness Room, a DHS platform for states to share information, the official said. --Sarah Frier and Alyza Sebenius

Facebook Removes False Voting Claims (8:10 p.m. ET)

Facebook Inc. said it removed content from its social network that falsely claimed Democrats and Republicans were supposed to vote on different days.

The company said it also took down claims that agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were patrolling polling places, which ICE debunked. Facebook is enforcing a rule to remove misinformation about voting methods and times, which could suppress turnout. --Sarah Frier

Disinformation May Keep Coming, Official Says (7:59 p.m. ET)

Election-related disinformation might persist for weeks after polls close, a national-security official said Tuesday.

Bad actors may try to overstate their capabilities or the influence they had on the election before results are finalized, said the official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, who asked not to be named.

DHS officials Tuesday responded to reports of equipment challenges and weather incidents, including power outages, the official said. The department has not seen evidence that a malicious actor was behind any incidents.

Technical issues included problems with old technology and long ballots, said another DHS official who asked not to be identified.

"Anything we are seeing is what we would see on any other normal day," said Eric Chien, technical director at Symantec Corp., a digital-security firm monitoring the election. -- Alyza Sebenius

Indiana Judge Orders Extended Polling Hours (7:43 p.m. ET)

A judge ordered an Indiana county to keep 12 polling places open longer after some delayed opening their doors by as many as two hours due to "extenuating circumstances," the Times of Northwest Indiana reported.

Tracking Voting Irregularities Across the U.S.

The affected Porter County precincts must each be open for a full 12 hours, Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford ruled Tuesday after rejecting arguments from the state’s Republican Party Central Committee, according to the newspaper’s website.

The party argued the judge didn’t have authority to issue such an order and said voters had had plenty of time to cast their ballots through early voting or with absentee ballots, the newspaper said. --Erik Larson

Texas Judge Orders Polls to Extend Hours (7:13 p.m. ET)

A judge in Texas ordered Harris County to keep nine of its polling places open an extra hour after delays in opening the locations.

Tracking Voting Irregularities Across the U.S.

Harris County District Court Judge Fredericka Phillips issued a temporary restraining order after the nonprofit Texas Civil Rights Project and the Texas Organizing Project sued on Tuesday. The county includes Houston and is home to 2.3 million registered voters.

“Voters should not be shut out of the election because of the county’s failures to administer these polling locations properly," Hani Mirza, senior staff attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, said in a statement.

The extension may delay final results in the Senate race between incumbent Republican Senator Ted Cruz and Democratic Representative Beto O’Rourke, one of the most closely-watched elections of the year. --Erik Larson, Laurel Calkins

No Proof, Just Tweets Alleging Fraud (6:06 p.m. ET)

There’s no evidence of widespread voter fraud, but conservative activists are raising questions online about whether poll workers are corrupt, voting machines are malfunctioning, and groups are being organized to vote illegally.

Larry Schweikart, author of “A Patriot’s History of the United States,” tweeted that he was hearing that two buses “full of illegals” toting signs for U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke had been stopped at the Mexican border on their way to the polls. O’Rourke, a Democrat, is running for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas.

Tracking Voting Irregularities Across the U.S.

Schweikart offered no evidence, but the message was quickly retweeted more than 2,000 times. Screenshots were reposted on Gab.com, which rose to prominence as the social media outlet of choice for Robert Bowers, the alleged shooter in the Tree of Life synagogue shooting.

Such allegations are invariably met with waves of both support and skepticism. The polarized response, though, is the entire point. Raising questions about the integrity of an election gives people license to view disappointing results as invalid.

The Trump administration has a history of this kind of signaling. In 2016, President Donald Trump claimed that millions of people voted illegally in 2016, depriving him of the national popular vote. He then launched an investigation into voter fraud, which stalled almost immediately. This week, the president posted messages on Twitter warning about illegal voting. -- Joshua Brustein

Misinformation Cited on Social Media (5:25 p.m. ET)

The spread of misinformation and coordinated activity continues on social media despite increased efforts by the companies to stop it. A couple examples found by Storyful.com, a social media newswire that is a subsidiary of News Corp.:

  • A Facebook page on Nov. 5 paid for some ads that linked Democrats to the spread of anti-Semitism. The ads were targeted across the U.S. and had a potential reach of 50,000 people, with the purchaser spending $100 to $499 for them, according to Facebook analytics.
  • A group of over 100 Facebook pages posted an identical anti-Donald Trump video within eight minutes of one another Nov. 3. Facebook on Monday said it had blocked 30 accounts and 85 Instagram accounts that “may be engaged in coordinated inauthentic behavior.” It wasn’t known if any of these 100 pages were among those blocked. -- Selina Wang

Feds See No Compromise of System (4:06 p.m. ET)

Federal officials say they’ve seen no evidence that U.S. voting systems have been compromised by hacking in Tuesday’s election.

Officials from the federal Department of Homeland Security said their command center in Northern Virginia is staying on the lookout for any such problems. The message for adversaries is “do not try” to interfere, said DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. “We will impose consequences.”

On social-media platforms, officials have detected some activity that might represent attempts to meddle in the elections by means of “intentional misreporting of when to vote,” said Christopher Krebs, a DHS undersecretary. In some cases, the misreporting may have been accidental -- as in, mistimed text messages saying “vote tomorrow” that should have been sent on Monday, said a DHS official who asked not to be named.

Krebs urged Americans to vote. Nielsen said adversaries aim to undermine the public’s faith in the system. “I think they win if they sow any element of doubt,” she said.

She said DHS officials have had “open lines” of communication with the White House today.-- Alyza Sebenius

New Jersey Mail-in Law Sows Confusion (3:24 p.m. ET)

Voters in New Jersey grappled with the effects of a new law related to mail-in ballots that some said was causing confusion.

The law, signed in August by Democratic Governor Phil Murphy, directed that mail-in ballots be sent to those who had cast them in the 2016 election -- and those who didn’t want to vote by mail again would have to opt out. Some apparently weren’t aware, and those who showed up at precincts were handed provisional ballots.

The provisional ballots will be counted just like any other, according to Patricia DiCostanzo, Bergen County superintendent of elections.

Robert Toups, a 50-year-old IT consultant, said he and his wife went to vote in Cresskill in Bergen County Tuesday morning. When they checked in, workers pointed his wife to a voting booth, while he was told he’d already been sent a mail ballot. He was handed a pencil and paper ballot.

But he said he hasn’t mailed in a ballot -- neither this year nor last. He voted early in the 2016 election, he said, but he did it in person. “I just want to know that everyone is playing fair,” Toups said in an interview.

As of Monday night, New Jersey county election boards had received 382,883 vote-by-mail ballots, according to Trudi Gilfillian, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state. A total of 572,096 such ballots were issued.

Parts of New Jersey were under flash-flood warnings as heavy rain fell Tuesday. Voting was “steady all day, even with the weather,” according to DiCostanzo, the election official in Bergen, home to one in nine New Jersey residents. About 40 people had obtained court orders allowing them to vote, she said. --Terrence Dopp, Elise Young

Tracking Voting Irregularities Across the U.S.

New Yorkers Abandon Lines as Scanners Fail (2:52 p.m. ET)

In New York City, scanning machines broke down all over the city, thwarting thousands of would-be voters and forcing hundreds to abandon polling places rather than endure waits that sometimes exceeded an hour.

At Public School 207 in the Kingsbridge area of the Bronx, all five scanners were inoperative, forcing scores of voters to resort to paper ballots. That wasn’t unique. At 109th Street and Broadway, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, all the scanners were down and hundreds of voters lined up around the block in the rain, according to voter Joan Levine.

All machines were also down at St. Cecelia’s Church in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, said Daniel Kolb, a lawyer at Davis Polk who volunteered at Election Protection, a monitoring group set up by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, operating a national call-in center at 866-OUR-VOTE.

“We’re seeing problems across the city, an extraordinary number of scanners not working in district after district,’’ Kolb said. “This is very different from prior elections and someone has to explain to us why this is happening. It’s a two-page ballot instead of one, and some people are not putting in the pages separately, fouling the machines. The problem began in mid-morning and has been building ever since.’’

City Board of Elections spokeswoman Valerie Vazquez did not respond to requests for information.

The snafus come after the Republican-controlled state Senate blocked a legislative move earlier this year to permit early voting in New York state.

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson called for the executive director of the city’s election bureau, Michael Ryan, to resign over the widespread problems.

“Every election is like Groundhog Day: long lines, polling site issues, huge problem," Johnson said in a tweet on Tuesday, in which he also mocked Ryan for blaming the situation on the poor weather conditions. “We should begin a top to bottom review of how this happened."

A message left with Ryan’s press office wasn’t immediately returned. --Henry Goldman, Erik Larson

Tracking Voting Irregularities Across the U.S.

Technical Glitches and Long Lines (1:06 p.m. ET)

Long lines in Georgia, Michigan, New York, Missouri and Texas were inconveniencing voters on Tuesday -- along with late openings for polling places in Arizona, Maryland and Pennsylvania and technical glitches in scattered precincts around the country.

But while the Department of Homeland Security was tracking those reports -- as well as weather-related issues on the East Coast -- the agency had no indication that any of the problems were related to any kind of cyber-attack, an agency official said Tuesday afternoon.

New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s office said its Election Day
hotline has received about 225 calls and emails, with the top complaint citing
broken scanners.

More than 40 complaints were about polling places with at least one broken
scanner, according to a tweet by Underwood’s communications director, Amy
Spitalnick. The office is "looking into systemic problems," she said.

In Georgia, five of Gwinnett County’s 156 precincts had technical problems this morning that kept machines from working initially, according to Joe Sorenson, the county’s communications director. For a period of time, paper ballots were being issued at four locations as backups because the voting machines were not working. At the fifth location, the poll workers failed to give voters paper ballots, so the county will keep the location open later, until 7:25 p.m. tonight, he said.

In Texas, a Harris County election official blamed a lack of preparation by some polling staffers for issues in the Houston area, and said there are no major issues there now.

Most of the problems nationwide have been with old voting machines that broke down or poorly trained poll workers, according to Common Cause, a non-partisan group, which had a record number of poll-watching volunteers at 6,500 in 30 states. --Alyza Sebenius, Erik Larson and Steve Matthews

Twitter Deletes Fake Flag-Burning Video (11:59 a.m. ET)

A fake video made the rounds on Twitter and Facebook on Monday and into Tuesday morning purporting to show a CNN report about Democrats burning American flags.

The fake post had around 55,000 shares before being deleted by Twitter, according to the Daily Beast. The video follows a similar pattern seen in the last several days of misinformation bouncing around the web, racking up more shares than even the most successful mainstream news stories, and then getting deleted after journalists point them out to social network administrators. --Gerrit De Vynck

Some Arizona Voters Locked Out (11:49 a.m. ET)

Voters couldn’t get into a Chandler, Arizona, polling place Tuesday after the building was “foreclosed” overnight, a spokeswoman for Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes said.

In a series of Twitter posts early Tuesday, Fontes said “access issues” forced the temporary closure. He later said the problem had been cleared up and the site made operational.

“We have just heard from the building owners, and we will now be able to use the building,” spokeswoman Sophia Solis said in an email late Tuesday morning. “We tried to update and accommodate the voters who visited the site.”

Maricopa County, home to former Sheriff Joe Arpaio who was pardoned by President Donald Trump after being convicted of criminal contempt, experienced issues early at a few other sites in Mesa and Phoenix, azcentral.com reported. Issues -- since resolved -- included at least one other polling place where voters were locked out and “a major technical issue,” the news site reported. -- Terrence Dopp

Delays Reported in Atlanta Suburbs (11:30 a.m. ET)

Voting in Georgia’s close race for governor got off to a slow start because of technical delays in four suburban precincts, the New York Times reported.

Joe Sorenson, a Gwinnett County spokesman, said the precincts reported issues with the system that creates voter access cards for Georgia’s electronic polling system, the newspaper reported. The problem lingered at three places into mid-morning; people at those locations were being allowed to cast paper ballots.

Republican Brian Kemp, who is Georgia’s secretary of state, faces Democrat Stacey Abrams in a governor’s race that’s been marked by contentious debate over voter-access questions.

Facebook Told Feds of Foreign Accounts Probe (10:30 a.m. ET)

Facebook Inc. alerted the U.S. Department of Homeland Security last night of foreign-linked Instagram and Facebook accounts that were being taken down from the social-media website, according to a DHS official.

“Almost all the Facebook Pages associated with these accounts appear to be in the French or Russian languages, while the Instagram accounts seem to have mostly been in English -- some were focused on celebrities, others political debate,” Facebook said in a blog post Monday. “Typically, we would be further along with our analysis before announcing anything publicly.” But Tuesday’s impending election spurred the company “to let people know about the action we’ve taken and the facts as we know them today.”

As of approximately 9 a.m. in Washington, 20 states were logged into the National Situation Awareness Room, a DHS-run digital information sharing platform. As polls opened across the country, the department expects more states to join.

In the first few hours of voting, there was nothing significant to report in the way of election hacking or security breaches, according to a DHS official.
-- Alyza Sebenius and Sarah Frier.

Voters Warned of Bad Poll Information (9:55 a.m. ET)

Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea warned voters to check the state’s website for correct polling places after she said there had been reports that outside groups were sharing false information.

“We have had some reports of voters receiving incorrect polling place information from 3rd party applications,” Gorbea said in a posting on Twitter. "Please remember to use http://vote.ri.gov for the most up to date information."

New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way issued a similar warning Tuesday. “Beware false information regarding your polling locations. To find your polling place, check your sample ballots or go to https://voter.njsvrs.com/elections/polling-lookup.html … to find where to #vote today. Polls are open until 8 p.m. in #NewJersey,” she said on Twitter. --Terrence Dopp

Tech Firms, Feds and States on Alert (4 a.m. ET)

As millions of Americans go to the polls today, internet and social-media companies will be on the lookout for trolls, bots and misinformation designed to sway the results. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division will step up its monitoring of state compliance with election laws by dispatching personnel to 35 jurisdictions in 19 states. And much of the nation’s attention will be focused on a number of states where ballot-access issues have stirred controversy.

“We’re all on high alert,” Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos, the president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, told Bloomberg Government.

No state has seen more contentiousness than Georgia, where Secretary of State Brian Kemp is the Republican candidate for governor. On Sunday, he said there had been “a failed attempt to hack the state’s voter registration system,” and that an investigation had been opened into Georgia’s Democratic Party. No data was breached and federal authorities have been alerted, according to a statement from Kemp’s office.

Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams responded that Kemp’s claim of election hacking amounted to a “witch hunt” and an abuse of power. Kemp has come in for previous criticism over his handling of the state elections system. On Friday, he lost in court when a federal judge in Atlanta ruled that more than 3,100 voters whom the state had flagged as ineligible non-citizens could participate in the election as long as they show identification and proof of citizenship.

Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union last week also criticized a new voter-identification law in North Dakota and what they called an out-of-date voter database in Arizona -- both of which they said offer Republicans the most “bang for their buck” in terms of limiting ballot access for Democratic-leaning voters.

Since the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, some states tightened ballot rules -- from stricter voter identification and purges of voter rolls to fewer polling places and shorter hours. Supporters say the measures help ensure only qualified voters participate, while critics say the changes suppress the rights of poor and minority citizens.

The Justice Department said Monday its Civil Rights Division is stepped up monitoring compliance of federal voting rights laws by dispatching personnel to 35 jurisdictions in 19 states, including some that had been required to clear their election laws with the federal government prior to that rule being tossed out by the 2013 Supreme Court ruling.

The states are: Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

Meanwhile, a warning about “illegal voting” that appeared Monday on the Donald Trump for President Facebook page became one of the top posts of the day on Facebook.

“President Trump warns anyone who commits illegal voting shall receive maximum criminal penalties,” said the post. It asks: “Do you agree?”

Actual voter fraud is “vanishingly rare,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law, which cited academic studies and investigations by news organizations. For example, the Washington Post in December 2016 found four documented cases of fraud among more than 135 million votes cast in the November 2016 election.

Facebook last month unveiled new rules against voter suppression on its site. For example, the company said it would be taking down any posts that provide incorrect information about methods or times for voting.

Meanwhile, Americans appear to be growing more concerned about the potential for election hacking. Fewer than half of Americans surveyed said they’re somewhat or very confident the elections are secure from hacking, according to an Oct. 29 Pew Research Center report. No matter what disruptions might happen Tuesday, Americans should vote, federal and state officials have said. The loss of voter confidence is the greatest threat to the elections, they have said.

The runup to the election has been relatively calm from a cybersecurity perspective, federal officials say. “At this time we have no indication of compromise of our nation’s election infrastructure that would prevent voting, change vote counts, or disrupt the ability to tally votes,” said a joint statement on Monday from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and FBI Director Christopher Wray. --Sarah Frier, Selina Wang and Gerrit De Vynck.

Previous developments:

  • On Oct. 24, another Atlanta federal court judge ordered Georgia election officials to create a process for contesting the rejection of absentee ballots and absentee ballot applications due to signatures that apparently didn’t match.
  • The Spirit Lake Tribe sued North Dakota on Oct. 30, saying the state’s law requiring voters to present identification proving their current residential address imposes “a severe impediment” to their right to vote under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
  • In June, the U.S. Supreme Court gave states more power to purge their voting databases of people who haven’t cast ballots recently, upholding an Ohio system that could become a model for other Republican-controlled states. The justices, voting 5-4 along ideological lines, said the system was a legitimate effort to identify people who have moved away and didn’t illegally penalize people for not voting.

To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Steve Stroth in Chicago at sstroth@bloomberg.net;John Voskuhl in Washington at jvoskuhl@bloomberg.net

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

With assistance from Editorial Board