Indeed, some 46 states have solicited help from the Department of Homeland Security to protect their election systems from outside interference.
Despite fears of a hacker getting into voting machines and changing the outcome of elections, such an operation is well-nigh impossible. Voting machines are not connected to the Internet and are heavily secured against being tampered with.
Not so voter rolls, which are accessible to hackers and thus could be interfered with. Phantom voters could be added to the rolls by a hacker that then could be used to pad the vote for one candidate or another. Legitimate voters could be wiped from voting records, causing confusion and long lines at the polls.
Voter Fraud and Hacking Concerns
As CNN also noted, some conspiracy theorists believe that Russia’s Vladimir Putin is attempting to sway the outcome of the election using that country’s skilled cyberwar resources, tilting the election to Donald Trump (2).
While no one massive hack could change the election wholesale, a minor one in one state or even one precinct could sway the outcome of a national election if the results are close enough. The experience in Florida in 2000 in which the outcome of that year’s presidential election hung on just a few hundred votes proves that supposition.
Homeland Security and the military’s cyberwar units are moving to secure the voter rolls in various states.
Nevertheless, a number of attempted hacks have already been reported. Some states are eschewing voting machines altogether and are going back to paper ballots to better secure their elections against outside interference.
Voter fraud (3) has likely been a fact of life since the ancient Athenians voted on important issues with their names written on broken pottery shards (4). In 19th century America, Tammany Hall rigged elections in northeastern states for decades. In the 20th century, politicians such as Lyndon Johnson and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley regularly created votes out of whole cloth to sway elections.
Johnson was first elected to the Senate in 1948 because of one dodgy ballot box to change a close election. Some historians believe that the results of the 1960 election were changed thanks to the efforts of both Johnson and Daley that changed the states of Texas and Illinois from the Nixon column to JFK’s. Voter rolls have occasionally been padded with dead people and illegal aliens.
Ways Voter Fraud Occurs
In modern times, vote fraud sometimes happens as the result of vote recounts. Aside from the 2000 fiasco in Florida, that many believe was an attempt by Al Gore (5) to snatch the presidential election from George W. Bush, a number of vote recounts have changed the results of elections.
In 2004, Al Franken won the election to the United States Senate when, during a recount, a number of Franken ballots suddenly appeared in a number of precincts that numbered more than did the number of registered voters.
The controversy over voter fraud has caused calls for stricter voter identification laws (6). Some groups have maintained that such laws would result in the voter suppression of certain minority groups.
Despite denials in certain quarters that voter registration fraud exists, the advent of cyberwar technology means that the hacking of voter rolls in an effort to sway elections will be a growing problem.
Cybersecurity measures have to be stepped up to secure the American election system, staying a step ahead of hackers, whether they work for foreign actors or domestic political groups.
Since voter IDs can be forged, likely a future tool in combating voter fraud will be some kind of biometric identification system, a thumb or retinal scan, that will prove that people showing up at the polls are who they say they are and are legally allowed to vote.
Otherwise the legitimacy of American elections will increasingly be called into question, and faith in democracy itself may be undermined (7).