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Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf testifies to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on August 6. Photo: Alex Wong/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security's intelligence branch warned law enforcement Thursday that it believes Russian-controlled social media trolls and state media are likely to continue trying to sow distrust in U.S. election results and mail-in ballots, ABC News first reported.

Why it matters: Americans are expected to vote by mail in record numbers in November's election due to the coronavirus pandemic, which means it may be days or weeks after election day before it's clear who won the presidency and down-ballot races.

The big picture: President Trump has raised alarms about the alleged danger of election fraud, warning that "lots of things can happen" with voting by mail if the presidential race isn't decided on election night.

  • Trump has vowed to block funding for mail-in voting and the U.S. Postal Service, while baselessly claiming that more mailed ballots will cause widespread voter fraud.
  • States that allow mail-in voting generally have a wide variety of security measures in place, including requirements that people request ballots with personal information like driver's license numbers.

What they're saying: "We assess that Russia is likely to continue amplifying criticisms of vote-by-mail and shifting voting processes amidst the COVID-19 pandemic to undermine public trust in the electoral process," the intelligence bulletin said.

  • The agency based its report on Russian state media and proxy websites criticizing mail-in voting since March this year, and Senate-sponsored social media analysis.
  • "We continue to release intelligence on foreign influence activities — we never stopped — including those targeting U.S. elections and democratic processes," an agency spokesperson said an emailed statement.

Flashback: The DHS withheld a separate intelligence briefing to law enforcement, reviewed in July, that warned of a Russian campaign to promote allegations about Democratic nominee Joe Biden's "poor mental health," per ABC News.

The White House declined to comment.

Go deeper

Special report on virus-era voting: Prepare for unprecedented threats

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

With rare, if not unprecedented, agreement, President Trump, Joe Biden, intelligence officials and Big Tech CEOs are all warning of threats to accurate and trusted vote counts before, on and after election day. 

American elections face a triple threat in 2020: 

  • Foreign governmentsespecially Russia, China and Iran — are actively spreading misinformation via social platforms.
Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Nov 7, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Why we struggle with the election expectations game

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Joe Biden appears close to an electoral win that will likely be narrower than election forecasts projected, and the initial sense that he underperformed expectations, which were themselves off base, could color his election and perhaps his presidency.

The big picture: We can't help but judge events based on whether they exceed or fall short of our expectations for them — but those expectations often aren't grounded in reality.

The top Republicans who aren't voting for Trump in 2020

Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said last week that he cannot support President Trump's re-election.

Why it matters: Hogan, a moderate governor in a blue state, joins other prominent Republicans who have publicly said they will either not vote for Trump's re-election this November or will back Biden.