The FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency warned the public Tuesday that foreign actors might spread disinformation about the results of the 2020 election and encouraged voters to be patient with delayed results.
“The increased use of mail-in ballots due to COVID-19 protocols could leave officials with incomplete results on election night,” the agencies said in a statement, highlighting the possibility that “foreign actors and cybercriminals” could use disinformation to “exploit the time required to certify and announce elections’ results.”
The warning follows news of a CIA assessment that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top aides “are aware of and probably directing Russia’s influence operations” aimed at interfering in the 2020 election, according to a Washington Post report published Tuesday. President Donald Trump and several top Republican allies have recently sought to cast China as the greatest threat to the election, even as evidence continues to emerge suggesting Russia is already interfering, as FBI Director Christopher Wray explicitly told House lawmakers last week.
The statement released Tuesday advised Americans to get information from “trustworthy sources” like official government election websites. The warning also said that Americans, when dealing with reports of problems with voting or results, should “verify though multiple reliable sources” and think twice before sharing unverified material on social media.
The agencies specifically said foreign actors might try to confuse voters by creating and spreading disinformation about “voter suppression, cyberattacks targeting election infrastructure, voter or ballot fraud” after the polls close.
While the warning focused only on foreign-based disinformation, domestic actors have recently spread similar claims about the upcoming election results.
Trump has repeatedly lied about voter fraud in US elections and questioned the legitimacy of the vote-counting process. Additionally, White House officials have ignored warnings from election officials about delayed results and instead have stated that there should be a projected winner on election night.
Relying on an inaccurate and misleading interpretation of how US elections are conducted, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said earlier this month that the Trump administration wants to see a presidential winner projected on election night this November.
“What we want election night to look like is a system that’s fair, a situation where we know who the president of the United States is on election night. That’s how the system is supposed to work. And that’s ultimately what we’re looking for and what we’re hoping for,” McEnany said in a Fox News interview, in which she also criticized Democrats for expanding access to mail-in voting.
While a clear winner being produced on election night is a modern tradition in US politics, and is what many expect when watching the results, it’s not required by law and it’s not what the system is designed to do.
This story has been updated with additional background information and context.
CNN’s Caroline Kelly and Paul LeBlanc contributed to this report.