As he does so often, Donald Trump has sparked a public discussion we probably wouldn’t have – as an actual public discussion (i.e., not just the right putting out facts and analysis in an echo chamber) – without Donald Trump.
This time, it’s voting fraud. Vote-rigging. Tampering. Electoral chicanery, whatever you want to call it. Trump said in an interview published on Tuesday that he wouldn’t be surprised if the election were rigged, given that “there’s a lot of dirty pool played at the election.”
The crisis moment
The infosphere was interestingly ready to take up the cry and amplify it. Yes, let’s talk about vote-rigging!
So: Trump is a nitwit, but he isn’t the only one to ever express such a fear during the height of election season (NBC). Bill Clinton shouldn’t have seemed to encourage an audience of illegals to run out and vote (The Hill); that undermines the ironclad case that there is no voter fraud or vote-rigging to worry about, and certainly not any voting by the undocumented. In-person voter fraud is actually terribly, terribly rare (WaPo); so rare you can’t see it under a microscope.
But hey, talking about a rigged election is just a campaign strategy for Trump anyway (NYT).
The White House is much more honest and sensible, you see; it “rejects fears of a rigged election” (AP – and remember that one for later). “President Barack Obama has confidence in the America’s electoral process and everybody else should too.”
Because there’s nothing to see here. Move it along, folks. Focus on this: voter-fraud laws (i.e., requiring an ID to vote) are all about race (Atlantic). That’s what you need to know.
Conversation stopper. The “R” word: your cue to shut up now.
Except…except…except. We are also told, this very week, just as the Trump interview was being reported, that “electronic voting fraud is scarily easy” to commit (Wired). That report is trending all over the Web, including here at LU.
The noise, the noise. Voting fraud! Rigged election fears! You can parse out the points people are actually making, if you like, but the impressionistic takeaway is that there’s just a vast, confusing horror afoot of shenanigans in the voting process.
Bad things could happen. It wouldn’t be about people voting fraudulently; you’re a racist if you think that. But the left wants to be sure you know that maybe somebody could Hack the Vote. Vote rigging voting fraud election tampering. The “cloud” is weighed down with trending keywords in big font. It’s out there, stalking us.
Feds to the rescue
And so, presto, as the Obama White House is expressing total confidence in the vote, Obama’s henchman at Homeland Security says…”Not so fast.”
Now, the concerns here are legitimate. So don’t get bogged down in arguing that point. What matters is what Team Obama wants to do about it.
Homeland Security is worried about the vote. Their worry is being touted in all the best places. There could be problems with voting machines. Somebody could hack them and corrupt the vote. So the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is “weighing options” to protect the vote from hackers.
There are no specifics on that yet. Declaring the voting systems across the country “critical infrastructure” is being considered, however.
On the heels of the Democratic National Convention hack and the political fallout that is ensuing months before the presidential election, the country’s Homeland Security chief said he’s considering measures that would strengthen cybersecurity protections for voting.
It’s time for the US government to “carefully consider” whether America’s election system should be considered as critical infrastructure, which would trigger greater digital security measures for electronic voting machines, said Jeh Johnson on Tuesday at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters.
Which would put Jeh Johnson’s DHS in charge of setting security standards for your voting machines, and responding to “possible cyberattacks.”
If you’re older than a Millennial, you know why that’s inherently wrong. The states are supposed to run voting procedures – which includes responding to concerns about system failures or tampering. It’s in the Constitution. Now, granted, the federal government has been interfering in some areas of voting for decades, under the guise of enforcing civil rights. (There was even a time in the past when that was warranted, to some extent.) But the feds have left the mechanics and mechanical integrity of the voting process up to the states, which is the correct and constitutional thing to do.
What Johnson contemplates would amount to exploiting an IT crisis, to put the feds in charge of responding if there’s a suspicion of vote hacking anywhere. That would immediately extend to any kind of vote tampering; the whole kit and caboodle – people, paper, machines – would be considered part of the “critical infrastructure.”
Now, one last piece of the puzzle. You’ve got Jeh Johnson in charge of deciding if your vote was hacked. Is that even, necessarily, a transparent, straightforward thing to do? Of course not. And that’s the great thing about it. It’s so obscure and complicated, you could be put in charge of preventing bias or tampering, and then actually introduce it.
I won’t attempt to summarize all the points made by this multi-part blog series on methods of subtly corrupting the voting outcome via electronic means. But I’ll commend it to your perusal. The analysts look at the GEMS election management system, which counts approximately 25% of all the votes cast in the U.S. This is the tip of the iceberg of their findings:
The results of this study demonstrate that a fractional vote feature is embedded in each GEMS application which can be used to invisibly, yet radically, alter election outcomes by pre-setting desired vote percentages to redistribute votes. This tampering is not visible to election observers, even if they are standing in the room and watching the computer. Use of the decimalized vote feature is unlikely to be detected by auditing or canvass procedures, and can be applied across large jurisdictions in less than 60 seconds.
Do you want to centralize in the federal government’s hands the power to set standards for such a system, respond to emergencies when something goes wrong, and then certify to you afterward whether it was used honestly and impartially?
In general, do you really want to give Washington, D.C. the last word on whether the vote in your state met “homeland security” requirements, regardless of what the voting method was? “Homeland security” is an awfully big blank check.
With something like GEMS, the federal government could very conceivably ensure that obscure, outcome-biased standards were set to begin with, and then still be the appeal of last resort, if someone detected that and complained. Court cases about that could drag through three or four election cycles’ worth of fraudulently elected candidates.
No, we shouldn’t centralize the power to set standards, and investigate, and decide whether the outcome met those standards, all in one entity. That’s putting an awful lot of trust in one place.
Be careful what you ask for. Don’t fall for this one. Electronic vote tampering is definitely a problem, but the answer is not to hand the Obama administration the keys to our entire voting system. From where I sit, the amount of noise being generated this week is proportional to their desire to achieve just that.
This problem belongs to the states, and the governors and legislatures need to get on the stick immediately.