Foreign Actors and the United States Presidential Election

Brenda Horan, Opinions Editor

Despite the threat of foreign interference being a prevalent concern among homeland security officers and other political authorities that feared a repeat of the 2016 election, the 2020 Presidential Election is considered to be the most secure election in American history. The fear of foreign influence was exacerbated by emerging allegations against the Trump administration for their entanglement with foreign actors who posed a threat to the security and validity of the election. 

Currently, there is no evidence that the election has been derailed by the immense foreign influence operations that upended the 2016 election. Albeit, President Trump has filed multiple baseless accusations of election fraud. Due to COVID-19, there was an exponential increase in mail-in ballots, leading to a historical voter turnout and causing more people to make allegations questioning the security and legitimacy of election results.

There were many pre-election fears about foreign interference from countries such as Russia, Iran, and China, as they were all waging cyberattacks and flooding social media with disinformation. Over the past year, the flow of disinformation shared by foreign actors has bombarded American internet servers in an effort to divide Americna society and yield a particular outcome in the election. 

Russia was the most prevalent and concerning foreign state that sought to interfere with the 2020 election, China, while remaining somewhat apolitical in regards to either candidate, continues to brutally criticize American democracy and its fallen place in the international arena. In the leadup to the election, Russian election-targeted content was pushed on social media platforms with narratives about a rigged election. Iranian state media outlets, following Russia’s suit, amplified similar narratives and further interfered with the election process by hacking. 

In the months leading up to the election, the U.S. government, domestic press, and social media companies tried to limit the spread of disinformation by countering and disrupting interference from foreign actors, helping to ensure the security of the election. Since the outcome of the election was expected to be determined a few days after election day, many were concerned that foreign state-backed outlets would use this period of uncertainty to continue to sow seeds of uncertainty about the validity of the election results. However, these efforts soon paled in comparison to the effect of domestic disinformation about the election’s outcome. 

In the end, the success of the election rode on the American people’s patience for a final result, resistance toward calls for the mobilization of violence, and trust in those who defended America’s systems and ensured that we all had a safe and fair election.

Disclaimer: This article pulled on information from the Foreign Policy Research Institute and The New York Times.