There’s a fair amount of discussion about the risks of electronic voting. The New York Times, the Guardian, and even Breitbart have discussed the ease with which voting machines can be hacked, and the dangers that it poses to our democracy.
But, for valid reasons, mainstream writers are hesitant to speculate about whether past election results have been influenced by hacking. By their very nature, these sorts of claims would be difficult to prove without extremely comprehensive access to the voting systems, and it’s irresponsible to make such extreme claims without proof.
I suspect there’s also a dread associated with claiming that our election results are not tied to the actual reality of who voted for whom. Certainly, both parties love to claim that there was voter fraud or suppression or manipulation that moved the results in favor of the other side (Trump in particular likes to make outlandishly false claims about people voting illegally for Clinton, or the Democrats in general).
But these accusations generally still assume that the numbers showing up on CNN reflect the reality of people going into booths and submitting votes. They may challenge the legitimacy of these votes, but they assume that the votes were actually cast.
And yet to assume that is true is to close your eyes to the reality of modern American elections. I obviously don’t have any information about whether or not elections have been hacked in the past, but to assume that it hasn’t happened (as most mainstream outlets seem to, at least implicitly) is wrong.
Let’s go over some indisputable facts about the 2016 presidential election:
- Russia tried very hard to influence voters using a variety of schemes on the Internet.
- This included gaining access to DNC emails through hacking, and attempts to hack Clinton’s email server.
- The results were extremely close, if you could change 100,000 votes you could change the result of the election.
- 28% of voters live in counties that only use touch screen voting machines (PEW doesn’t say if these spit out paper receipts or not), and 19% live in counties that mix touch screens and optical scan (essentially a Scantron).
Now, with the exception of Pennsylvania, no state that uses touch screen only was very close, so this is not a giant blinking sign that says “Hacked”. But I think those 4 points should at least cause people to pause for thought.
And that pause for thought is another problem with electronic voting. Regardless of whether or not the 2016 election was hacked, there’s a lot of evidence showing that it would be easily possible. And if Trump loses in 2020, do you think he’ll hesitate to scream “hacked” once he consults with his “cyber” son?
And once the legitimacy of the results is questioned, especially with a valid and hard to disprove line of questioning, the seed of doubt is hard to remove. With an increasingly divided and partisan country, that seed will only serve to further divide the country and give people cause to disbelieve election results.
The bedrock of American democracy for over 200 years has been a peaceful and accepted transition of power. People have always been despondent and dramatic when their favored candidate loses.
The legitimacy of elections has always been questioned! But in the past, it simply wasn’t possible to have reported election results differ wildly from what was actually on the ballots for national elections.
It would have required a massive conspiracy with many members since the ballots were paper and counted by a large group of people. Instead, you had to prevent people from voting, which is a much more public way of rigging elections (and unfortunately, an often accepted one).
But with computer voting, nobody would know if you altered some votes! Especially if you alter them in strategic ways such that it doesn’t differ too drastically from polling. And again, it doesn’t even really matter if this is actually happening, what matters is that it’s a completely legitimate concern, and it’s difficult to prove that it’s not happening.
So electronic voting threatens more than just the legitimacy of results, it threatens the transition of power that our country relies on. It does this by being the first valid way for a candidate to claim that they actually won and that the election results don’t reflect reality.
As more articles are written, and more people show how easy it is to hack these machines, the problem will only become worse. The solution to this isn’t to stop talking about how vulnerable electronic voting machines are, or to simply close our eyes and assume that nobody could ever hack our election.
Even more secure machines won’t solve the problem since the mere claim of hacking is enough to cast doubt. The solution is to scrap the idea of electronic voting machines entirely. Much of America’s government is built on the idea of inefficiency discouraging centralization of power and corruption, voting should be no different.