Are China and Iran meddling in US elections? It’s complicated.

“Russia’s main strategy is to sow discord and division, and diminish faith in democracy. It also favors President Donald Trump, partly because he helps advance the first two goals, and because of his oft-stated desire to improve relations between Washington and Moscow.

China and Iran are more averse to chaos in the US, and are much more focused on pushing their own national objectives. They want different things from the United States, Emerson T. Brooking, a resident fellow at the Digital Forensic Research Lab of the Atlantic Council, told me.

For China, that might mean promoting its Covid-19 narrative, or getting the US to shut up about Hong Kong protests. For Iran, that could mean promoting criticism of Israel or US sanctions policy.

All three countries have different capabilities. China might not use online trolls in the way Russia or even Iran does because it has other, far more effective tools — economic, technological — that could achieve those aims.

And, of course, interference may go beyond disinformation or influence campaigns. There is the threat of hacking or cyber intrusions of politicians, or campaigns, or even election infrastructure. There is also a concern over how individuals with ties to foreign governments might use money in politics. And there’s probably something else, because as one analyst told me, what the US doesn’t want to be doing is fighting the last war.”

“A Department of Homeland Security whistleblower complaint also alleges that the administration tried to downplay the Russia threat because it upsets Trump, and that National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien pressured the department to elevate China and Iran activities to the level of Russia’s, even though that didn’t fit with the actual intelligence data available.”

“Russia is still pushing disinformation through social media and has reportedly attempted to hack campaigns associated with both Democrats and Republicans. The Kremlin is also filtering pro-Russia narratives through Ukrainian politicians to undermine Biden and the Democrats, talking points that are being regurgitated by Trump and GOP allies. The ODNI has said that Russia “is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden.”
Taken together, Moscow’s tactics create chaos and distrust in US institutions and democracy, exacerbating America’s partisan divides like a finger pressed to a bruise.

Based on what’s known publicly, China and Iran are echoing some of those strategies. They’re spreading disinformation. They reportedly targeted campaigns and political entities.

But China and Iran want different things when it comes to America.

Russia wants to disrupt and destabilize and confuse people on how to see the world. Iran and China would like the world to see things their way. At least right now, China, in particular, sees a lot more value in building itself up than in tearing America apart.

“For China and Iran, ultimately, their interests are not served by an American political system that is chaotic, unable to think long-term, make strategic decisions about their relationships with either of those two countries,” Priscilla Moriuchi, an expert on state-sponsored cyber operations and fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, said.

This is not to say that China and Iran are cool with the United States as is. But China doesn’t want a chaotic world, Brookings’s West told me. It wants stability. So if it’s going to meddle in the 2020 election, it’s not out to cause Russian-style pandemonium.”

“The ODNI report says Russia wants to denigrate Biden, but says Iran and China have particular preferences when it comes to the 2020 election. US intelligence assess China “prefers that President Trump – whom Beijing sees as unpredictable – does not win reelection.” But the ODNI doesn’t say that China is necessarily tipping the scales for Biden. Instead, China’s operations are mostly focused on deflecting criticism of China.
As for Iran, the ODNI says it seeks to “undermine President Trump” and democratic institutions, saying it’s mostly focused on online and anti-US propaganda.

This has created a sense that Russia is on one side and China and Iran are on the other — one for Trump, two for Biden. But this is the wrong way to look at it, experts told me. It muddles the actual efforts and objectives of each of these actors.

“It’s certainly true that different US adversaries might have different preferences for the outcome of the election,” Brooking, of the Atlantic Council, told me. “But they don’t go about executing their goals the same way.””

” This is a US presidential election; Beijing has a preference, but so do Brussels and Mexico City and Tokyo. Allies and adversaries alike are going to have an idea of an outcome they’d like to see based on their own foreign policy, national security, and economic interests. As Cordero said, that’s not the same thing as “taking specific actions using their intelligence services, using their military, cyber capability to actively affect the outcome of our election.””

“”it is not clear that China is really interested in turning a lot of this apparatus to privilege one candidate or another in the presidential election.”

So far, China hasn’t really shown itself to be interested in that kind of disruption, James Andrew Lewis, senior vice president and director of the Technology Policy Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told me. Instead, he said, China is “more interested in getting the US off their back.”

“With China, it’s to benefit China,” Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation fellow at the Wilson Center”

“Moriuchi, at the Belfer Center, cautioned against the notion that this somehow means China is the JV team to Russia’s varsity, because, again, they’re essentially playing two different games. Russia is trying to disrupt the 2020 election and see what kind of disorder it can create. Beijing is playing the long game.”

“Russia is an adversary, but Moscow can’t directly challenge the US’s economic dominance, or its position in global hegemony. Trying to bolster the Russian political system in the US wouldn’t be as useful in weakening US democracy as, for instance, amplifying doubts about mail-in voting.”

“Russia’s disruption tactics are a kind of asymmetric warfare against a larger power. It’s low tech and not all that costly, but America’s homegrown political dysfunction has made it seem wildly effective.

This isn’t the case for China. China is challenging the US for global hegemony. “China — the Chinese Communist Party — believes it is in a generational fight to surpass our country in economic and technological leadership,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said in July. China does want to manipulate the American political system to help achieve those ends. It just has a lot more capabilities than Russia does.

“It’s certainly true that if China wanted, they could have extraordinary impact on this social media space,” Brooking said. “But the Chinese also don’t need to do that.” They’re the second-largest economy in the world, he added. “They have so many levers of influence and power, which don’t rely on creating sock puppet accounts and botnets.”

China is carefully, and strategically, expanding its influence in the US in ways that might not fit with our perception of “meddling.” And if China doesn’t like what the US or others are saying about its policies, it doesn’t necessarily need to rely on a fake Facebook page.”

““The Chinese don’t want you to say what we did in Hong Kong was bad, and they use market pressure and money and influence operations to push that China’s great: ‘Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,’” CSIS’s Lewis said.

This also prompts certain industries or institutions to self-censor, tiptoeing around sensitive issues to avoid displeasing China. But China can also more directly use its economic prowess, enticing Wall Street or Hollywood with investment or funding think tanks and universities that may push more Beijing-friendly talking points.

There are also legitimate concerns about what China is doing with its technology. China uses apps like WeChat to spread pro-Chinese messaging, including to the Chinese diaspora around the world, and the government almost certainly uses it as a surveillance tool. The same goes for concerns about censorship and/or data tracking on Chinese-owned apps like TikTok.

And then there are the hacking operations meant to gather intelligence — that is, to spy. FBI Director Wray said in that same July speech that the US opens a counterintelligence case against China every 10 hours; of the FBI’s 5,000 counterintelligence cases, about half involve China.

China has waged a relentless campaign to steal technological and trade secrets from the United States. Hackers with ties to Chinese military or intelligence have carried out cyber operations to steal massive amounts of data — hacks like the 2017 Equifax breach that affected about half of all Americans, or the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) hack.

“So China is probing campaigns like the Russians (and Iranians), but what it will do with that information is a lot less clear. In 2016, Russia released stolen information through WikiLeaks, which was far more dramatic and influential than just quietly collecting information for its own use. China, we know, has these cyber capabilities, but so far it hasn’t tried to dump any information to alter the presidential race.”

“Iran definitely has cyber capabilities. But Zoli said, overall, they’re not sophisticated enough to have a truly enormous impact. “They don’t have the capabilities and they haven’t thought through a really multi-pronged strategy. They’re not going after, you know, these ancillary institutional sites to try to have a big impact on political decision-making.””

“Plenty of other countries — even those who’d fall into the US ally camp — are using social media to spread state propaganda, or messaging that favors their foreign policy goals. Saudi Arabia-linked accounts have spread pro-Trump messaging on Twitter. During the George Floyd protests, Turkey tried to link Syrian Kurds to antifa. Whether this stuff really works isn’t the point; it doesn’t require a lot of resources, it’s not all that complicated, and right now, getting taken down by Twitter or Facebook is a fairly low cost.”

The Latest On Republican Efforts To Make It Harder To Vote

“the most surprising aspect of the voting process is what we have laid out here: One party seems to be systemically making it harder to vote and taking other steps that undermine the integrity of the electoral process. The big question is whether these tactics will work, either by keeping anti-Trump ballots from being cast or counted, or by throwing the election results (whatever they end up being) into doubt.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s new Russia report, explained

““The Russian government engaged in an aggressive, multi-faceted effort to influence, or attempt to influence, the outcome of the 2016 presidential election,” the report, which was co-signed by both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate committee, says. “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian effort to hack computer networks and accounts affiliated with the Democratic Party and leak information damaging to Hillary Clinton and her campaign for president” to WikiLeaks.

Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chair, comes under heavy criticism in the report for his “willingness to share information with individuals closely affiliated with the Russian intelligence services” — this “represented a grave counterintelligence threat.”

However, the report goes further than special counsel Robert Mueller did — it claims some information suggests Manafort and a longtime associate of his, Konstantin Kilimnik, were “connected” to the Russian government’s effort to hack and leak Democrats’ emails. These details are redacted, though.

The report also retells the story of how Roger Stone tried to get inside information on WikiLeaks’ plans at the behest of the Trump campaign. “Stone obtained information indicating that John Podesta would be a target of an upcoming release,” the report says. It also describes Jerome Corsi’s claims that Stone tried to get WikiLeaks to time the release of Podesta’s emails to distract from the Access Hollywood tape.

There are many other topics addressed in the report, including some criticism for how the FBI handled the “Steele dossier” allegations about Trump. There are also matters that remain murky — most notably, the purpose and extent of Manafort’s communications with Kilimnik, and the exact nature of the information Stone got regarding WikiLeaks.”

Child care is broken. Biden has a plan to fix it.

“Biden is making relief for child care centers part of his larger caregiving plan, which he unveiled on Tuesday in New Castle, Delaware. “As a first step, Biden will immediately provide states, tribal, and local governments with the fiscal relief they need to keep workers employed and keep vital public services running, including direct care and child care services,” states the campaign document outlining the plan. (The campaign did not provide specifics on the among of relief the candidate would make available if elected.)

But the former vice president also promises to go beyond the immediate crisis and invest in child care for the future. His plan would provide free preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds in the country. And for kids under the age of 3, the plan would create a system of tax credits and subsidies so that families earning less than 1.5 times the median income in their state would pay no more than 7 percent of their income for child care, with “the most-hard pressed working families” paying nothing.

The plan also includes tax credits to encourage employers to construct onsite child care facilities, something companies did during World War II that’s become harder to imagine today, as families (most often mothers) are expected to handle child care on their own.”

Can You Buy A Presidential Election?

“Bloomberg’s support grew more than three times as fast in markets where he advertised than where he didn’t, and in the week before his disastrous debate performance on Feb. 19, he registered 15 percent support in these markets compared with 6 percent in other markets.”

“On its own, Bloomberg’s experiment shows TV advertising can’t swing an entire election. It could not overcome Bloomberg’s lack of charisma or skill as a debater. Bloomberg’s campaign did show, however, that advertising can have a measurable, double-digit impact on the polls and vault a candidate into the top tier. That’s not nothing.”

Can Trump cancel the November election?

“this delay of a state primary election, among others, understandably triggered fears that other officials, potentially even Trump, might take advantage of the Ohio precedent to postpone or cancel November’s election if it appears that Trump is likely to be defeated.

The good news is that’s not allowed — or, at least, it’s not allowed unless Congress allows it to happen. A trio of federal laws set Election Day for presidential electors, senators, and US representatives as “the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November.” If Republicans want to change this law, they will need to go through the Democratic House.

The 20th Amendment, moreover, provides that “the terms of the President and the Vice President shall end at noon on the 20th day of January.” Thus, even if the election were somehow canceled, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence’s terms would still expire as scheduled — although, as explained below, the question of who would succeed them is devilishly complicated.

A more realistic threat, as the Nation’s Elie Mystal writes, is that state officials could use the extraordinary powers available to them during a major public health crisis to manipulate who is able to cast a ballot. It’s not hard to imagine a circumstance, for example, where the heavily Democratic counties of Miami-Dade and Broward, in Florida, are placed under a “shelter in place” order on Election Day, while residents of Republican counties in the panhandle are free to head to the polls.

But an outright cancellation of the election is unlikely in the extreme.”

“The picture for presidential elections is slightly more complicated. A federal statute does provide that “the electors of President and Vice President shall be appointed, in each State, on the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November,” so states must choose members of the Electoral College on the same day as a congressional election takes place.

That said, there is technically no constitutional requirement that a state must hold an election to choose members of the Electoral College. The Constitution provides that “each state shall appoint, in such manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors, equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress.” So a state legislature could theoretically decide to select presidential electors out of a hat. More worrisome, a legislature controlled by one party could potentially appoint loyal members of that party directly to the Electoral College.”

A Texas Supreme Court decision could disenfranchise millions during the pandemic

“The overwhelming majority of states allow any lawful voter to obtain an absentee ballot without having to justify their request. Texas, by contrast, allows only a minority of voters to obtain one. One provision of state law allows elderly voters to vote absentee. Another permits absentee ballots if a voter will be away from their home county on Election Day. A third provides that “a qualified voter is eligible for early voting by mail if the voter has a sickness or physical condition that prevents the voter from appearing at the polling place on Election Day without a likelihood of needing personal assistance or of injuring the voter’s health” — a requirement that, according to the state Supreme Court’s decision in Texas, applies only to people who are ill or disabled.

Civil rights groups and the state Democratic Party argued that this third provision should be broadly interpreted to allow anyone who could become infected with the coronavirus to vote absentee. The words “physical condition,” they argued, includes the physical condition of being susceptible to a deadly pandemic disease. In other words, during a pandemic that requires social distancing to control the spread of said disease, nearly everyone has a “physical condition” that should enable them to vote absentee.

In recent elections, older voters have tended to prefer Republican candidates over Democrats. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, objected to the broader interpretation of the law. At one point, his office even threatened to bring criminal prosecutions against any organization that encourages younger voters to request an absentee ballot. The state Supreme Court’s nine Republican justices ultimately sided with Paxton, although two of the nine did so for different reasons.

The court’s decision in Texas will not be the last word on whether younger Texans may vote absentee in November. In a separate Texas lawsuit, a federal trial judge ruled last week that the state cannot discriminate against younger voters. Among other things, he determined that the Texas law violates the 26th Amendment, which permits all otherwise eligible voters over the age of 18 to cast a ballot.

But the federal decision has been appealed to the notoriously conservative US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and may ultimately be heard by a US Supreme Court that is frequently hostile to claims of voter suppression. So it is far from clear that younger Texans will be allowed to vote absentee.”

How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change

“I’ve heard some suggest that the recurrent problem of racial bias in our criminal justice system proves that only protests and direct action can bring about change, and that voting and participation in electoral politics is a waste of time. I couldn’t disagree more. The point of protest is to raise public awareness, to put a spotlight on injustice, and to make the powers that be uncomfortable; in fact, throughout American history, it’s often only been in response to protests and civil disobedience that the political system has even paid attention to marginalized communities. But eventually, aspirations have to be translated into specific laws and institutional practices — and in a democracy, that only happens when we elect government officials who are responsive to our demands.

Moreover, it’s important for us to understand which levels of government have the biggest impact on our criminal justice system and police practices. When we think about politics, a lot of us focus only on the presidency and the federal government. And yes, we should be fighting to make sure that we have a president, a Congress, a U.S. Justice Department, and a federal judiciary that actually recognize the ongoing, corrosive role that racism plays in our society and want to do something about it. But the elected officials who matter most in reforming police departments and the criminal justice system work at the state and local levels.”

Why Does Trump Want To Stop People From Voting by Mail?

“Since Trump himself voted by absentee ballot in Florida’s presidential primary two months ago, you might wonder why he wants to deny Michigan and Nevada voters the same opportunity, especially at a time when COVID-19 fears might make people reluctant to gather at polling places. And why those states specifically, when five states (Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington) conduct elections almost entirely by mail, while 28 others require no special justification for absentee voting? You also might wonder why Trump views voting by mail in those states as illegal, cheating, or a form of voter fraud. In any case, why does Trump think he has the authority to punish states for election procedures he does not like by withholding federal funding?”

“Are Democrats more likely to vote by mail than Republicans? Trump certainly seems to think so. In a March 30 interview on Fox News, he criticized COVID-19 legislation proposed by House Democrats that would have required states to allow “no excuse” absentee ballot applications and, if an election is held during a national emergency, to send every registered voter a mail-in ballot. “The things they had in there were crazy,” Trump said. “They had things—levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”

Notwithstanding that dire prediction, the evidence concerning the partisan impact of voting by mail is mixed. Pantheon Analytics found that switching to mail-in ballots in Colorado gave a slight advantage to Republican candidates in 2014, while that change in Utah gave a slight advantage to Democrats in 2016. In both cases, voting by mail increased participation in the election, as you would expect. But contrary to the fears often expressed by Republican politicians, that turnout boost does not seem to consistently favor Democrats. In 2016, for instance, 15.5 percent of registered Republicans who voted in North Carolina used mail-in ballots, compared to 8.8 percent of registered Democrats.”

“What about Trump’s claim that absentee ballots enable voter fraud? The issue is a personal obsession for Trump, who implausibly blamed massive fraud for costing him his rightful popular-vote victory in 2016. Even if we charitably treat that concern as distinct from the unsubstantiated fear that mail-in ballots favor Democrats, there is little evidence that voter fraud is a substantial problem, regardless of how people cast their ballots.

While it’s true that voting by mail is especially vulnerable to fraud, such incidents are still highly unusual. “Election fraud in the United States is very rare, but the most common type of such fraud in the United States involves absentee ballots,” Rick Hasen, an election expert at the University of California, Irvine, law school, told the Times in April. “Sensible rules for handling of absentee ballots make sense, not only to minimize the risk of ballot tampering but to ensure that voters cast valid ballots.” The five states where voting by mail is the norm “report very little fraud,” the Times notes.”