Donald Trump Almost Has a Point — Voting Machine Hacking Could Happen This Election

Liberals are worried about it too. So why aren't we doing anything about it?
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Publish date:
August 8, 2016
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politics, voting, election, Donald Trump

Hey, remember that Scandal storyline about how they hacked voting machines in defiance so Fitz would win, even though it's pretty obvious that Fitz is The Worst and a pet rock would make a better president? While Scandal was preying on everyone's worst nightmares, Princeton professors were proving for the gazillionth time that it's actually super easy to hack a voting machine.

Like.

Super easy.

Like, I can barely get Wi-Fi to work on my phone and I could probably do it. Check this out, man:

This is becoming a pressing issue this year because liberals are seriously worried that Donald Trump (or maybe Russia? Is Donald Trump actually secretly just Russia?) is going to hack just enough voting machines to hand himself the victory in November. Well not personally, because he has people for that, but you get the idea. Donald Trump, meanwhile, has announced that the election will definitely be "rigged," which is either a preemptive strike in preparation for ignominious defeat, or a warning sign that he'll take the election results to court and this is going to be like 2000 you guys remember how that election like never ended? I know it feels like this election is never going to end but seriously 2000 was interminable.

Okay, deep breath, I'm back.

So here's an interesting thing about election rigging and fraud that I've observed over the years.

Conservatives tend to be very convinced that in-person fraud is the big concern (double voting, impersonation, etc.), even though it doesn't actually happen. They've used constructed fears around the bogeyman of fraud to pass a bunch of racist, repressive voter suppression laws that are very clearly aimed at keeping specific segments of the population (people of color, poor people, and disabled people, many of whom overlap) from voting. Those laws are having a rough time in court right now, incidentally.

Liberals, on the other hand, view voting machines with extreme suspicion, and are convinced that they are being hacked left and right.

It turns out that liberals...might be kind of right? There's a growing amount of evidence suggesting that vote tampering is going on, and it makes a huge difference on the local level, where candidates may win by margins of less than 100 votes. If you can manipulate a machine such that all evidence of original votes is erased, it's impossible to tell how the election should have gone.

Obviously this isn't happening in every election in every precinct, but it's certainly cause for concern. It's troubling that in the years since electronic voting machines went mainstream, security specialists have repeatedly warned that they are really terribly secured, and that it's disturbingly easy to interfere with election outcomes.

There aren't actually any laws specifying the details of how elections are conducted — that's left to a state-by-state thing, which is one reason the primaries were so bananas. (Primaries! Caucuses! Both! Winner take all! Proportional allotment! Open! Closed! Who knows?! Our state parties get to administer our primaries!) The Help American Vote Act of 2002 aimed to...well, pretty much do what it says on the box, but specifically to improve accessibility and electoral integrity.

It also included a boatload of handouts to the states, and encouraged individual states to think about maybe getting, or upgrading, some voting machines. White hats like the people at Princeton, and several states, along with numerous security-minded organizations (some of which include former CIA and Homeland Security officials), have indicated that we need to do something about the disturbingly easy level of hackability on our voting machines. Granted, if we believe some conspiracy theorists, the CIA in particular should be very familiar with the mechanics of rigging elections.

But seriously though. Our voting machines are a problem, people have been repeatedly saying they are a problem, and now we're in a situation in which I'm forced to say a sentence I never thought I would say: I agree with Donald Trump.

To some extent. I'm not convinced that the election will be rigged, but I'm very convinced that it can be, and that worries me. Everyone deserves to have their vote count, and I don't want people to think their votes don't matter, or for people to just shrug and stay home on election day because "it's rigged anyway."

I'm also concerned, deeply, about Donald Trump. If I may engage in some conspiracy theorization of my own here, should Donald Trump win in November, I would seriously question the integrity of the election results, particularly if it was by a significant margin. If he loses, I'm genuinely worried that he's going to kick up a big stink about rigged elections and that it will overshadow the early months of the Clinton Administration.

The patchy regulation of the electoral process is very worrying, given that we already know voter suppression is a national problem, compounded by the issue of voting machine hackability. It's weird that Donald Trump of all people should be bringing this issue back into the public eye, but this is an important conversation to have. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security is discussing whether to treat elections as "critical infrastructure," thereby entitling them to more rigorous federal protections.

If protecting roads and bridges is important, then surely protecting the electoral process should be too. Especially this year, with the news that election monitors are going to be thin on the ground.

I vote absentee, and every year, I check my ballot stub against the county's website to make sure it's been counted. (You can do it with your stub from the polls, too, FYI.) Every time I do, though, there's a sense of weird, fatalistic despair. Maybe ballot number 897623 was counted, but was it counted correctly?