By Charlotte King
As November 6 draws nearer and almost all states have passed their voting registration deadlines for the US midterms, increasing attention is being drawn to the possibility of Russia interfering in the elections. Every single intelligence agency in the US produced reports proving that Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election, so will it happen again?
Discussion has sparked regarding Russian interference in the midterms in light of recent events which saw Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova, a 44-year old Russian woman, charged by the US Department of Justice for interfering in the midterm elections. It is said she was running a social media ‘troll farm’, a strategy which has been used by the Kremlin before, where workers are employed to create conflict and anger around ‘hot issues’ through spreading fake news.
Khusyaynova’s troll farm, called Project Lakhta, was spreading propaganda with direct orders to promote full support of Donald Trump’s campaign, brand John McCain as an ‘old man who has lost it’, and amplify divisive issues such as race relations and gun rights.
Additionally, Microsoft found evidence of Russian interference in US politics back in August. They uncovered fake websites made to mimic two conservative think tanks, the Hudson Institute and the International Republican Institute. US authorities state that Russia’s intent is to “aggravate conflict [and] increase political intensity” in the run-up to the midterm elections.
Russia has developed a pattern of repeatedly interfering in elections across the globe. For example, evidence has come to light of Russian intelligence interfering in the US 2016 presidential campaigns and in the 2017 French presidential election. What is more, research conducted by Twitter found that in the run-up to the 2016 US election, 677,000 Twitter users interacted with Russian bots and 1.4 million users were exposed to Russian ‘fake news’ content.
Armed with evidence of past and current Russian cyber-attacks, FBI Director Christopher Wray stated: “Russia attempted to interfere in the last election, and continues to engage in malign influences operations to this day”. Their actions, he added, “serve as a stark reminder to all Americans: our foreign adversaries continue their efforts to interfere in our political system”.
The states at the greatest risk of cyber hacking and electoral meddling are New Jersey, Delaware, South Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana, as are the only states in the US not voting via paper ballot. They are relying solely upon electronic balloting – if the Russians attack these systems and influence the results, there will be no way to tell.
Why is Russia interested in influencing the outcome of the midterm elections? In short, no one knows. Whilst it is expected they are meddling with the US elections to achieve a specific foreign policy goal, whatever that may be is kept private. US authorities have said that Russian activities do not “exclusively adopt one ideological view”, hence one school of thought suggests that Russia is attempting to divide and de-stabilise American politics to challenge the US’§ reputation as a global power.
If Russia hacks the electoral system, the US has no control over who can and cannot vote. Furthermore, the spreading of fake news and disinformation campaigns can lead to illegitimate election results. Whatever Russia’s intentions may be, their election meddling has a devastating effect upon US democracy and undermines our fundamental Western democratic values.
So, as the midterm elections draw closer, all evidence points towards the fact that there is a high risk Russia will be attempting to meddle in US politics once again. It is safe to say that America should expect the unexpected if they have any hope of protecting their election results from foreign interference.