How vulnerable to tampering or malfunction will our electoral system be Nov. 8 when millions show up to cast their ballots? It’s a topic of considerable interest.
“I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged, I have got to be honest,” Trump told Ohio voters in August.
He was not being honest. He was hedging the possibility he will be the loser.
However, there are serious problems that need attention. For example, America’s voting machines are aging. Many are approaching the end of their intended lifespan. Voting machines are designed to last about 10 to 15 years, and a significant number are at the end of their cycles.
They aren’t exactly held together with bailing wire and twine, but 42 states have voting machines that are at least a decade old; 14 states have some polling places where there is no paper trail to backtrack and recheck tallies. The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice points out these issues in its efforts to draw attention to the problem.
The issue is finally getting some attention thanks to recent headlines about the security breach of the Democratic National Committee’s email servers, suspected to be the work of Russian hackers. Hackers also attempted unsuccessfully to breach voter databases Arizona and Illinois.
The danger of cyber-attacks – or any tinkering with the American voting system – is a lot like terrorism. The mere threat of it, the fear of it, does the most damage. All that is necessary is to undermine the public’s trust that their votes will be accurately counted. No hacking or disruption actually has to occur.
In this, Donald Trump has played the perfect stooge. He is undermining the public’s faith by promoting the idea our systems are less secure than they actually are. Trump isn’t talking about real threats. He’s claiming his voters are being targeted, that his votes are being suppressed.
Lawrence D. Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at Brennan, speaking Wednesday (Sept 28) before a House committee, stressed the need to separate fact from fiction.
“To address and combat potential threats to the integrity of our elections, we must honestly assess the risks and distinguish between what is probable, possible and conceivable but highly unlikely,” Norden said to the Subcommittee on Information Technology. Here is what deserves underlining.
The American voting process is incredibly decentralized. There are more than 10,000 voting jurisdictions in the nation. And few votes are cast over the Internet or through machines connected to the Internet (those that are mostly come from military and overseas voters). That means there isn’t one single place for hackers to target. There are 10,000.
Brennan estimates at least 80 percent of registered voters in November will vote on a paper ballot, or through an electronic machine that produces a paper trail.
That said, continued vigilance is paramount. Cyber security experts, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are hyper-focused on detecting problems, foreign or domestic and including identity theft. Meanwhile, the Brennan Center has encouraged all election officials to keep backups, including paper copies of registration lists, to conduct automated scans that check for fraudulent activity, to audit after the election. And the need to replace older equipment, for which it’s sometimes difficult to get replacement parts, is finally getting attention.
Meanwhile, there is good news about another threat to the right to vote, one perpetrated in recent years by state legislatures under the guise of preventing voter fraud. Restrictive voter identification laws have been challenged in the courts and are being beaten back for unconstitutional overreach.
It’s important to know that voting is a right – not a privilege – for U.S. citizens, whether native born or naturalized. Laws surrounding the vote must not impede that right. And, increasingly, the courts are ruling that many new provisions limit the access of eligible voters, even though legislatures profess their purpose is to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.
To protect our democracy we must protect the sanctity of the vote. In this election more, being an informed voter has taken on new meaning and new significance.