America’s lax attitude about the integrity of our voting process puts the legitimacy of Election 2016 in doubt
By MICHAEL W. DOMINOWSKI
How could so many high-quality polls have been so universally wrong about the outcome of Election 2016? The losers always complain, but there is something suspicious about the shocking Election 2016 upset, something that feels stolen.
The experts would have you believe that rigging a national election in the U.S.A. is nigh unto impossible. States run the elections and there are thousands of polling places. Many use different methods of voting and have slightly different ballots. They correctly point out that manipulating votes in that many places is simply not possible without being detected.
But what if that were not necessary?
Few targets, big effects
To manipulate the outcome of a presidential election, you do not have to hack a wide variety of voting machines across the country. If the software in a few populous counties in a couple of key states could be compromised, the outcome of the election could be controlled.
Is this even plausible? In fact, it is scarily easy to do. Stealthy software attacks like the Energetic Bear and the Stuxnet hacks show such sabotage can be quite effective and can go undetected indefinitely.
There are any number of scenarios of how an attack on our voting process might be accomplished. Here is one:
The keys to Election 2016 were Pennsylvania, with 20 electoral votes and Florida with 29. The winner of the state takes all the electoral votes.
A handful of the most populous counties effectively determine the outcome of the election in those states: Philadelphia surrounding counties are the key to Pennsylvania’s electoral votes, and Florida’s Gold Coast counties control that state’s electoral votes.
Both of those areas use the same sort of digital voting systems: direct-entry voting (DRE) without a voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT). With no paper trail, an accurate recount is impossible.
The equipment and the voting software used in those states are, for the most part, old and insecure.
An undetectable nudge
Let’s say a foreign government wanted to manipulate the outcome of Election 2016 to help their favorite candidate. They might do that by modifying the core vote tabulation software with some simple coding that would continuously compare the vote totals of two candidates.
This could be accomplished by replacing the machines’ authentic source code, stored at a central location, with the malicious version. Nobody, even at the highest state level, might ever be aware of the sabotage.
The hacked software would faithfully record each vote – indicating the machine is working properly – but would tally those votes to slightly favor one candidate over another.
When the voting machines are updated, prior to being sealed and distributed to the polling places, they are prepared and calibrated with a brief test. The machine calibration process would not catch this cheating if the software did not begin skewing the votes until a larger number ballots were cast, or until the polls opened.
With the hack in place, no matter how many votes are cast (up to the number of registered voters), the favored candidate might always be, to choose a number, about one percent ahead of the rival candidate.
This is enough of a margin to assure victory, but it is probably not close enough to raise suspicion. Again, an accurate recount is impossible because there is no paper trail to compare.
Both Florida, Pennsylvania, and some others with similar voting schemes, provided surprise victories for Donald Trump. The margin of victory in each case was about one percent.
“Those who cast the votes decide nothing”
If investigators went to examine the software, they might find the malicious code had automatically deleted itself.
Russia was formally accused of actively interfering with Election 2016 – a bold intrusion tantamount to an act of war. This was a blockbuster charge. Yet we as a nation, caught in a historically divisive campaign, shrugged it off.
Remember it was Russian dictator (and Vladimir Putin idol) Josef Stalin who purportedly said “Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything.”
Did intruders ultimately succeed in rigging the outcome of Election 2016? Because of our lax national attitude toward maintaining the integrity of our voting process, we may never know.
Michael W. Dominowski is the editor of Not For Hire Media.