JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – With the November election just two weeks away, the stakes are high — and so is the tension.
Both presidential candidates and local political hopefuls are vying for last-minute votes. This comes at a time when many are uncertain about election violations and fraud. Many Americans are concerned about what’s expected to be the most mail-in ballots ever as some speculate about possible interference.
It’s what agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been preparing for in recent years.
The possibilities for corruption in the digital age are endless: from social media interference and misinformation to mail-in voting and ballot fraud. Agents say voters are targeted in more ways than ever before.
“It’s changed since 2016 to 2020,” said Mark Hoffman, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Jacksonville division. “We’ve had a lot of factors, foreign influence just got into it. Obviously with COVID-19 now, pulling in mail ballots, mail fraud possibly.”
The FBI is preparing for any and all possibilities. Each field office has a team looking for elections crimes, with a dedicated elections expert who works with local, state and federal agencies long before ballots are cast.
“I think it definitely helps build a trust within the public,” Hoffman said.
FBI agents have been training with everyone from supervisors of elections to sheriffs to postal inspectors. Hoffman said investigators are looking for the following:
- Traditional election crimes, like ballot fraud
- Campaign finance law violations
- Civil rights issues like voter suppression
- And a hot topic: foreign interference
Right now, the bureau is working a number of investigations involving allegations of elections crimes in the Jacksonville district.
“We’ve had allegations of different types of crimes, voter fraud, ballot fraud,” said Hoffman, who could not discuss details about active investigations.
FBI agents are working with social media platforms to stop disinformation such as posts telling people they can vote after the election, claiming their polling location is closed or discouraging them from voting by mail.
“A lot of Floridians probably don’t know that if they request a mail-in ballot, they can actually track that ballot from the Supervisor of Elections to their house. And once they vote they can actually track that ballot back to the supervisor of elections when it’s actually counted,” Hoffman said. “The voters can educate themselves, reading online or in the media, making sure the information is accurate to do their homework and research.”
If you think something’s wrong, Hoffman said first contact your local supervisor of elections office as staff there will be able to resolve most issues. If it’s found to be a possible federal crime, the FBI would get involved.
According to the FBI, an election crime is generally considered a federal crime if:
- The ballot includes one or more federal candidates;
- An election or polling place official abuses their office;
- The conduct involves false voter registration;
- The crime intentionally targets minority protected classes;
- The activity violates federal campaign finance laws.
The FBI has set up a page with helpful information to keep voters away from scams and election-related crimes.