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As America votes, rights groups on alert for ‘suppression’

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People vote during the midterm election at P.S. 140 in Manhattan, New York City on November 6, 2018. Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US rights advocates were on the alert for ways in which votes were possibly suppressed in yesterday’s congressional elections because complaints about registration problems, faulty equipment and intimidation had been a feature of early balloting that began last month.

Democrats and advocacy groups said they had been grappling with a diverse crop of new voting restrictions in this midterm election cycle, which would determine whether or not Republicans keep control of the US House of Representatives, the US Senate and governorships of 36 states.

North Dakota introduced a voter ID requirement that Native Americans say discriminates against them, Kansas and Georgia moved polling locations and changes in Tennessee registration laws led to people being removed from the voting lists.

Advocacy groups said the changes stack the deck against minority voters likely to support Democratic candidates.

Each of those hotly-contested states’ Secretary of State, the top election official, has said the changes were made to protect against voter fraud and accommodate budgetary constraints, not to suppress voting. Independent studies have found that voter fraud is extremely rare in the United States.

Yesterday’s elections, widely seen as a referendum on Republican President Donald Trump, had been portrayed by both Republicans and Democrats as critical for the future of the country.

“We’re seeing a tug of war for the soul of this country,” said Jamal Watkins, who leads civic engagement at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP.

Ahead of yesterday’s polls, government investigators, academics and security firms revealed that Russian agents believed to be connected to the government had been active in spreading divisive content and promoting extreme themes.

Researchers studying the spread of disinformation on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and other platforms say the new, subtler tactics have allowed most of the so-called information operations campaigns to survive purges by the big social media companies and avoid government scrutiny.

“The Russians are definitely not sitting this one out,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “They have adapted over time to increased (US) focus on influence operations.”

US intelligence and law enforcement agencies say Russia used disinformation and other tactics to support President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

The Russian government has rejected allegations of election interference.

Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman declined to comment on allegations of further meddling in the run-up to the midterm elections.

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