Computer hackers have already played influential roles in the 2016 election cycle. Leaking Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails and private Clinton speeches have given many people pause about the Democratic nominee. Trump’s leaked tax returns and recordings have brought just as much scrutiny against the Republican.
These hacks have done more than expose serious problems with the nominees of both major parties. They have also made people concerned that hackers, particularly Russian hackers, could manipulate the entire election process. Despite the work that hackers have already done, though, it seems unlikely that they can cause a significant disruption that would topple the American voting system.
Most States Still Use Paper Ballots
Following problems with paper ballots during the 2000 election, a lot of states decided to start using electronic options like touch-screen machines and optical scanners. Hackers may find those targets appealing, but they can’t do much about the 18 states that still use paper ballots and the 14 states that use electronic ballots with paper trails.
In fact, only five states eliminated paper voting after 2000. Unless you live in Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, or South Carolina, your state doesn’t solely rely on electronic ballots. Considering that none of these are swing states, ballot manipulations would become obvious pretty quickly.
The Russia Hacker Story Has Been Blown Out of Proportion
The Obama Administration seems convinced that Russia is responsible for hacking the DNC’s computer system. That Russian hacker story, however, has been blown out of proportion. Kurt Eichenwald has gone so far as to claim that Trump receives talking points from Vladimir Putin. Eichenwald’s reasoning hinges on the absurd belief that no one on Trump’s staff reads the Sputnik website or has a Google Alert set to find any story connecting Clinton to Benghazi.
The connection between Trump and Putin becomes even more spurious when you realize that both candidates have business connections to Russia. It’s unclear why Putin would want to sway the election in Trump’s favor.
The Russian hacker story, while it may have a kernel of truth, has been turned into a conspiracy theory that doesn’t deserve much attention.
U.S. Law Enforcement is Aware of Potential Manipulations
Russian hackers can only manipulate the U.S. election by keeping their activities covert. A well-orchestrated hack could certainly cause some disruptions, but it’s unlikely to manipulate election results because law enforcement in the U.S. is so aware of the possibility. It’s even more unlikely that hackers could manipulate results without drawing attention to themselves. When hackers breached the election systems in Illinois and Arizona, the FBI discovered the problem within a couple of weeks. Now that law enforcement is more away of potential manipulations, discoveries would happen within hours.
Cyber security experts will keep a close eye on how election day unfolds. If they encounter aberrations, they’ll inspect the source and find a solution. That solution may require switching to paper ballots for a new election day, which would cause a lot of problems for states and voters, but it wouldn’t sway election results.
Russia could cause some disruptions to the election system, but there isn’t any reason to believe it could sway election results.
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