FBI Special Agent James Langenberg, N.M. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and U.S. Attorney John Anderson joined together to talk about election security in New Mexico this week.
Langenberg said while it is the primary responsibility of individual states to protect the integrity of their elections, the FBI works with those states to make sure the election is “as free as possible from fraud and foreign interference.”
“I would like to make one thing clear,” he said. “There is no evidence at this time that the New Mexico elections have been compromised by either a cyber intrusion, or foreign influence. The FBI has jurisdiction over federal election crimes such as voter and ballot fraud, civil rights violations, and campaign finance offenses. We are also responsible for investigating and prosecuting malign foreign influence, operations, and malicious cyber activity targeting elections infrastructure and other democratic institutions. We know foreign adversaries may want to undermine the integrity of the upcoming elections by using social media to spread rumors or false reports or possibly conduct cyber-attacks on state and local infrastructure. I believe it’s important the public knows what federal, state, and local officials are doing to safeguard the elections and what New Mexicans can do to help.”
Langenberg said the Albuquerque FBI has participated in national tabletop exercises on many election day scenarios, coming up with responses to potential threats. He also said the Albuquerque FBI will set up a command post to help local partners with threats.
Langenberg said the FBI has a lot of experience investigating crimes, but the public should be vigilant. Langenberg listed four ways that the public can help.
First, he said, is to be aware of foreign or malicious actors who create misinformation online, and only share information from reliable sources like state and local officials.
Second, he said, be smart about what is shared on social media and “don’t amplify a foreign adversary’s message or spread malicious rumors.”
Third, he said, is to be proactive and report and suspicious activity that could hinder the election process.
Lastly, he said, be patient because it might take longer than normal for conclusive vote totals to come regarding the election, but officials are working their hardest to tally the votes.
Anderson said that the Department of Justice also has a critical role in making sure election fraud doesn’t happen.
“Federal law protects against a variety of election related crimes, he said, “such as intimidating or bribing voters, buying and selling votes, impersonating voters, altering vote tallies, stuffing ballot boxes, and marking ballots for voters against their wishes, or without their input. It also contains special protections for the rights of voters and provides that they can vote free from acts that intimidate them.”
Anderson said the DOJ will have local points of contact so voters can report suspicious activity on Election Day.
Toulouse Oliver said that there are both high-tech and low-tech solutions her office uses to make sure elections stay secure.
“Every election conducted in New Mexico uses only voter-marked and verified paper ballots,” she said. “This ensures that there’s always a paper trail that allows for auditing and verification of automated voter counting systems. In a high-tech world, this low-tech strategy of paper ballots is one of the best ways to protect the vote. Post-election audits after every election have been conducted here since 2008 to ensure the accuracy of the election outcomes. This process involves randomly selecting a few races and precincts throughout the state and hand counting the ballots in those particular precincts. The hand-counted results are then compared to the Election Day machines count results and and discrepancies between the results are thoroughly investigated, up to and including a full hand count.”
As far as high-tech solutions go, Toulouse Oliver said her offices uses air-gapped vote counting systems and aggregation systems to prevent malware or ransomware being introduced to the system that tallies the votes.
She also said there are specific restrictions on how many observers or challengers can be in one polling place.
“They have to be credentialed, primarily through a political party or through an election-related organization, or an academic organization,” Toulouse Oliver said. “They have to be certified by our office or their political party to be present. They do have to follow very specific state statutes when in and around the polling location and of course, while they have a lot of opportunity to observe and make notes and they can ask questions of the poll officials, they are not allowed to interact with the voters in any way nor are they allowed to obstruct the voting process in any way. That includes impeding people from being able to access the polling place or also slowing down deliberately the voting process in anyway. Those are prohibited activities.”
She said that in order to register to be a poll observer, a person should reach out to their preferred candidate or party, and also be registered in the county they want to observe in. She also said they cannot be a law enforcement officer, or be related to a candidate.
Langenberg said that in order to report an election disturbance, call 1-800-CALL-FBI or email tips.fbi.gov. “I have 100 percent confidence in the election,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can here in New Mexico and that’s what we’ve been preparing for the last year.”
Early voting started Oct. 6 at the County Clerk’s offices and will expand to other locations starting Oct. 17. Early voting will end Oct. 31. Absentee ballots can be returned in person so the Clerk’s office or polling locations until 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.
For more election and voter information, visit the Secretary of State’s website at sos.state.nm.us.