How to steal an election

If you were planning to steal an election, our long history of rigging the popular vote can help you. Controlling who counts the votes and how those votes get counted is the most direct and effective way of election thievery – especially when votes are cast, counted and stored by digital machines.
Decades ago, with our typical enthusiasm for technology, Americans accepted voting machines – first mechanical, then electronic, now digital and tomorrow wireless – as a valid replacement for paper ballots. We were wrong.
It's bad enough when machines malfunction, but storing votes on hard drives offers thieves an easy way to steal. They just need a few minutes of access to machines before an election to install malicious software, or similar access to storage drives after votes have been cast. That access is available to whichever political party controls a state government.
It's much, much harder to rig elections that rely on paper ballots marked with a pencil. Lots of volunteers help count those ballots. A running tally is often kept and posted, and a recount is possible. There's really no way to cheat that system, so us Oregonians have faith that our paper ballots will be counted honestly.
That's not true in states that embraced electronic voting. An estimated $3 billion has been spent across the nation in search of new technology after the 2000 "hanging chads" presidential election fiasco in Florida. Ohio shelled out $115 million in one year just to upgrade software, but the result has been an increase in obvious errors and suspicious results. In Georgia there is no way to check or recount their digital ballots.
Fortunately, the digital voting trend is fading. Machines get old and must be replaced while the rest require new software and security measures every few years. Most states simply won't pay to do that any longer; several have already returned to paper ballots while others are making plans to do the same. In 2016, less than 25 percent of American voters will use an electronic or digital machine to cast their vote, down from about 40 percent in 2008.
According to US intelligence agencies, 30 states had their election systems hacked by Russian operatives last year. Every government official who mentions the hacking is quick to add, however, that no vote totals were tampered with.
What they won't tell you is how they can be sure – because they don't really know...

Rob Lafferty is a former newspaper editor and National Affairs columnist from Maui now living in the woods of Oregon's Coast Range.

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