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Empty chairs are seen at a polling place Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, in Alexandria. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP

There is evidence that social media bots helped stir online activity around a controversial ad against Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie in the buildup to election day today, The Washington Post reports. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam's campaign cited a third-party analysis that found automated Twitter accounts tweeted using terms linked to groups behind the ad, allegedly inflaming online tensions.

Why it matters: Similar automated social media accounts helped to stir online chatter over divisive issues on a national scale during the presidential election last year. Facebook, Google and Twitter came under fire on Capitol Hill last week over how Russian actors used their sites to spread controversial content and ads.

What the analysis found: 13 of the top 15 Twitter accounts that posted words linked to the ad, which a group ran targeting Gillespie, were fully or partially automated and generated by software. The study by Discourse Intelligence was paid for by the Virginia Education Association as an in-kind service to Northam's campaign, the Post reports.

Big picture: The Virginia race, which is often seen as a bellwether for the country, comes to a close today. Republicans will be watching the results to see whether an establishment Republican can adopt Trump-style tactics to win over voters, and Democrats will be trying to ride on Trump's low polling numbers.

Go deeper

Storms pummel flood-hit Pacific Northwest as border river overflows

An image of the water-logged Sumas Prairie area taken last Friday. Photo: B.C. Ministry of Transportation/Twitter.

The latest ferocious storm system to hit the Pacific Northwest triggered fresh evacuation orders and at least one mudslide in flood-ravaged British Columbia, Canada, late Sunday.

Threat level: Flood sirens sounded in Washington state as the Nooksack River overflowed. Henry Braun, mayor of Abbotsford, B.C., told reporters the water flow was headed toward the Canadian border city later Sunday. "There's nothing to stop it," he said.

Updated 4 hours ago - Health

First North American Omicron cases identified in Canada

COVID-19 testing personnel at Toronto Pearson International Airport in September. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The first two cases of the new Omicron variant have been detected in North America, the Canadian government announced Sunday evening.

Driving the news: The World Health Organization has named Omicron a "variant of concern," but cautioned earlier on Sunday that it is not yet clear whether it's more transmissible than other strains of COVID-19.

Former Defense Secretary Esper sues Pentagon over book

Former President Trump and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper at the White House in 2020. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper filed a lawsuit Sunday against the Defense Department, accusing the Pentagon of "censoring" his First Amendment rights by redacting aspects of his upcoming book on the Trump administration.

The big picture: Esper, who served as defense secretary from July 2019 until he was fired by then-President Trump in November last year, alleges in the suit that "significant text" is "being improperly withheld from publication" of the manuscript "under the guise of classification."