National

Explainer: How law enforcement is responding to election threats around the country

NEW YORK — (NEW YORK) -- Election security is on the minds of many Americans in the run-up to the 2022 midterm elections. The aftermath of the 2020 elections coupled with an increased threat of foreign interference through election tampering, fraud, and intimidation have forced the federal government to create an election security umbrella that never existed before.

That umbrella is, in large measure, coordinated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) with support from the Department of Homeland Security's Critical Security and Infrastructure Agency as well as the National Security Agency (NSA) and U.S. military Cyber Command.

For the FBI, the threats can be in person, in writing, via phone, or made online. They can include:
- Voter suppression, where bad actors spread disinformation about voting using various methods such as social media platforms, texting, or peer-to-peer messaging applications on smartphones. They may provide misleading information about the time, manner, or place of voting. This can include inaccurate election dates or false claims about voting qualifications or methods, such as false information suggesting that one may vote by text, which is not allowed in any U.S. jurisdiction.

- Threats against election workers, which includes any threat to an election worker or volunteer that causes fear, danger or intimidation.

- Voter fraud, by giving false information when registering to vote (such as false citizenship claims), by voting when ineligible to vote, and by voting more than once or using someone else's name to vote.

- Election fraud, which includes changing a ballot tally or engaging in other corrupt behavior as an elections official; providing a voter with money or something of value in exchange for voting for a specific candidate or party in a federal election; threatening a voter with physical or financial harm if they don't vote or don't vote a certain way; and trying to prevent qualified voters from voting by lying about the time, date, or place of an election, i.e., voter suppression.

- Campaign fraud, which includes excessive campaign contributions above the legal limit, conduit contributions or straw donor schemes, contributions from prohibited sources, cording between Super PACs and independent expenditure organizations and a candidate's campaign, and using campaign funds for personal or unauthorized use.

The threats can emanate from domestic and foreign sources, including state and non-state actors and radical U.S.-based groups. In every case, these attempts are meant to sway voters and the election process in one direction or another.

In August of 2020, then-Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanna warned that China, Russia and Iran were attempting to sway American voters and influence the election. The same holds true today as these same state actors, once again, are trying to usurp the U.S. election process.

To combat this, in addition to its broad partnerships, the FBI has created a robust and expansive election intelligence effort aimed at identifying and mitigating any threat to the election process. This includes the creation of the Foreign Influence Task Forces, which brought the FBI's national security and traditional criminal investigative expertise under one umbrella to prevent foreign influence in our elections.

Additionally, as has been done in the past, on Election Day the FBI will spin up command posts across the nation that will monitor and respond to investigative tips as well as real time election issues.

These command posts are staffed by investigators and analysts from the FBI and its partners, including local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, that coordinate and work together to thwart any evidence of election tampering, fraud or abuse.

Since all alleged Election Day offenses get referred to the FBI for investigation and potential prosecution by the Department of Justice, the Justice Department will run a nationwide Election Day Program, where an assistant U.S. attorney is appointed by the United States attorney in that district as the election coordinator.

All of this is in an effort to ensure that the election is safe and that any nefarious actors are identified and stopped, in order to protect the voting process.

Donald J. Mihalek is an ABC News contributor, retired senior Secret Service agent and regional field training instructor who served during two presidential transitions and multiple campaigns. He was also a police officer and served in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves.

Richard Frankel is an ABC News contributor and retired FBI special agent who was the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Newark Division and prior to that, the FBI's New York Joint Terrorism Task Force. He was also the Associate Director of a National Intelligence / Senior FBI Detailee to the Office of the Director National intelligence.