JOHNSTON, Iowa — Iowa’s chief election commissioner is sounding the alarm about foreign interference in the general election through online misinformation.
In a joint press conference with top security officials, Sec. of State Paul Pate said online disinformation campaigns are the biggest threat to the 2020 election.
“One of our biggest challenges, unfortunately, is misinformation and disinformation. I encourage Iowans to not believe everything they read on social media,” he said. “Sometimes people are just giving out bad information. Others are trying to confuse voters and to create doubt in our elections.”
Pate said it is difficult for government officials to intervene in misinformation online, without overstepping individuals’ rights.
“We’re going to call it out when we can,” he said. “We’ve all wrestled with that for some time now when we look at Facebook and Twitter and all the other things you know what is First Amendment and what is misinformation?”
He is asking that Iowans are extra diligent and cautious about what they are reading online, and where the source is coming from. For election related information, visit the secretary of state’s website or your local county auditor’s website.
A regional FBI agent, Gene Kowel, said the threats misinformation pose are not ones to be taken lightly.
“Our adversaries see our elections as an opportunity to challenge our confidence in our institutions and our values, to sow divisions in our society, to weaken our alliances and to promote their own agendas,” he said.
Kowel said there have not been any major Iowa-specific hacking attempts or security threats yet.
“To counter these threats our field office — as well as every FBI field office in the United States — is standing up an election command post,” he said. “This will allow us to better coordinate efforts and intelligence with our local, state and federal partners.”
Pate and his team said despite their warnings, Iowans can trust that their vote is safe and secure, even though misnformation campaigns try to make people believe otherwise.
“We’re all working together, monitoring the election and we’re prepared,” Pate said.
He said his office has been working with state and federal partners to create incident response plans for all 99 counties in the event that something does go wrong on election night. Additionally, the Iowa National Guard has been running exercises to test the state’s cybersecurity systems and delivering personal protective equipment to each county for COVID-19 safety as well.
“I can’t emphasize this enough, the integrity of the vote and the safety of the voters are my top priorities. The sanctity of the vote must be protected,” Pate said.