Smoke and Fire and Vote Suppression

voter id, voter suppression and voting in the elections

Can an American election really be rigged? Probably not–but it looks like we’re going to find out just how good those Russian cyber guys are. In any event, if results could be manipulated, it wouldn’t be through so-called “voter fraud.”

Repeated accusations of in-person voter fraud just go to disprove that old adage that “where there’s smoke, there must be fire.” GOP officials across the country have generated a whole lot of smoke, despite the fact that numerous credible studies have found that the incidence of this particular offense is–in the words of one scholar–“vanishingly small.”

Trump, of course, wasn’t content with the level of smoke being generated by party pooh-bas –or even with the tactic’s demonstrable and intended side-effect of discouraging poor and minority folks from voting. Intent on proving that he did too win the popular vote and those three million more votes for Clinton were all fraudulent, he has convened a national commission to “investigate.”

It isn’t going well.

I’ll let Juanita Jean explain: 

The Washington Post is reporting this morning that the head of Trump’s so-called Voter Fraud Commission has made a request of every state’s voter file so he can give it to the Russians.  Okay, okay, I just made up that last part.

“The chair of President Trump’s Election Integrity Commission has penned a letter to all 50 states requesting their full voter-roll data, including the name, address, date of birth, party affiliation, last four Social Security number digits and voting history back to 2006 of potentially every voter in the state.”

He says he’s going to make all this information available to the public…I’m gonna try real hard to think of a way this information would be important to anyone in the federal government except for voter suppression.

Evidently, state officials are having an equally hard time envisioning a legitimate reason for supplying this information–not to mention that election laws in a number of states prohibit doing so (something you might think they’d have known). Thus far, forty-plus states have refused to comply.

Trump’s touching concern about voter shenanigans evidently doesn’t extend to other ways of manipulating election results, despite the fact that such fraud is far more likely to occur through the hacking of voting technologies. Given irrefutable evidence of Russian efforts to interfere with the last election, it would seem prudent to investigate whether that interference extended to breaches of voting machines.

The Trump Administration–surprise!–disagrees. 

Pressure to examine voting machines used in the 2016 election grows daily as evidence builds that Russian hacking attacks were broader and deeper than previously known. And the Department of Homeland Security has a simple response:

No.

DHS officials from former secretary Jeh Johnson to acting Director of Cyber Division Samuel Liles may be adamant that machines were not affected, but the agency has not in fact opened up a single voting machine since November to check.

A number of recent reports suggest that at least 39 states were targeted by Russian hackers. DHS itself has confirmed domestic attacks, but the agency continues to insist that there is no reason to look further.

Computer scientists have been critical of that decision. “They have performed computer forensics on no election equipment whatsoever,” said J. Alex Halderman, who testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week about the vulnerability of election systems. “That would be one of the most direct ways of establishing in the equipment whether it’s been penetrated by attackers. We have not taken every step we could.”

Voting machines, especially the electronic machines still used in several states, are so insecure that an attack on them is likely to be successful, according to a report from NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice out Thursday morning. David Dill, a voting systems expert and professor of computer science at Stanford University quoted in the report, said hackers can easily breach election systems regardless of whether they’re able to coordinate widely enough to alter a general election result.

Intimidating poor folks in order to “protect the integrity of elections”? Check.

Looking to see whether voting machines might have been tampered with? Nah.

[Originally published at SheilaKennedy.net on July 13, 2017]

Sheila Kennedy is a former high school English teacher, former lawyer, former Republican, former Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, former columnist for the Indianapolis Star, and former young person. She is currently an (increasingly cranky) old person, a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, and Director of IUPUI’s Center for Civic Literacy. She writes for the Indianapolis Business Journal, PA Times, and the Indiana Word, and blogs at www.sheilakennedy.net. For those who are interested in more detail, links to an abbreviated CV and academic publications can be found on her blog, along with links to her books..

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