Trump courts ‘rig­ging’

If the elec­tion is in­deed ‘rigged,’ it’s likely by Rus­sian hack­ers who fa­vor the GOP can­di­date

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Bent­ley Or­rick Bent­ley Or­rick (benorr@ver­i­ is a re­tired news­pa­per re­porter and ed­i­tor who cov­ered Mary­land and Florida pol­i­tics and ob­served the 2000 Florida elec­tion de­ba­cle first­hand.

When Don­ald Trump claims that the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion will be rigged, does he know what he is talk­ing about for a change? There is a chance that he does. There is also a chance that that he is not just con­coct­ing an ex­cuse for los­ing, but hop­ing that the vote will be rigged — in his fa­vor.

If the elec­tion is in­deed fixed, it will not be be­cause myth­i­cal hordes of Democrats will vote mul­ti­ple times as the GOP can­di­date claims. On the con­trary, if there is any se­ri­ous fid­dling with the vote to­tals, it will be by hack­ers hav­ing tar­geted elec­tronic vot­ing ma­chines, voter data­bases and elec­tion night tab­u­la­tions. And if this hap­pens, there is a very good chance that the hack­ers will turn out to be Rus­sians, al­most cer­tainly state sup­ported, who have al­ready shown they can hack the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee, which prompted Mr. Trump to in­vite them to hack Hil­lary Clin­ton’s emails be­fore the pub­lic knew her cam­paign man­ager’s mes­sages had been hacked. Per­haps Mr. Trump, whose num­bers are steadily sink­ing in the polls, wouldn’t mind if Vladimir Putin also di­rected hack­ers to dis­rupt the Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and hand him an un­likely vic­tory.

But even without hack­ers fix­ing the out­come, the doubt cre­ated by con­tested, but uncheck­able, re­turns could throw the na­tion into chaos on elec­tion night — a chaos that could last for weeks, strain the foun­da­tions of our democ­racy to the break­ing point and make the 2000 Florida “hang­ing-chad” dis­as­ter seem quaint.

Mr. Trump has been try­ing for years to do large fi­nan­cial deals with the Rus­sians. As his son Don­ald Trump Jr. said in 2008, Rus­sian money made up “a pretty dis­pro­por­tion­ate” chunk of Trump as­sets and was “pour­ing in.” Mr. Trump fawns on the au­to­cratic Mr. Putin as a strong leader and has claimed Mr. Putin called him “bril­liant” in re­turn, al­though the Rus­sian word more likely means “col­or­ful.”

There would be noth­ing col­or­ful — or even faintly amus­ing — about a hack of the Novem­ber elec­tion vot­ing.

Di­rect Record­ing Elec­tronic (DRE) vot­ing sys­tems are clearly vul­ner­a­ble to am­a­teur hack­ers, much less state-spon­sored ones, who might have in­fil­trated the com­puter code that has been or will be loaded into the ma­chines. And com­put- er­ized voter reg­is­tra­tions and tab­u­la­tions are vul­ner­a­ble in real time on­line through Elec­tion Day. Just cor­rupt­ing the re­turns sent to the net­works and news­pa­pers would be enough to cast doubt on who won that could take days to sort out.

In states with pa­per back­ups for the elec­tronic ma­chines, un­re­li­able vote to­tals could even lead to un­rest while the mess is sorted out by count­ing the pa­per back­ups, but at least there will be some­thing to count. How­ever, there will be hun­dreds of precincts with elec­tronic vot­ing without pa­per back­ups in key states. One of them is Florida, a must-win state for Mr. Trump.

Florida had some­thing to count in 2000: punch cards from ev­ery precinct. But this year there will be ab­so­lutely noth­ing to re­count on the DRE ma­chines used by about a quar­ter of the state’s vot­ers spread through­out 25 coun­ties, in­clud­ing pop­u­lous south­east coast coun­ties such as Broward and Mi­ami-Dade. That means noth­ing to show whether votes have been added, deleted or switched. Vot­ers in the rest of the state will get safe, hand­count­able pa­per bal­lots.

The 2000 elec­tion was rel­a­tively nor­mal, with nor­mal can­di­dates, com­pared to 2016. After the Supreme Court aborted the re­count in a un­prece­dented and par­ti­san rul­ing, Al Gore con­ceded without a fight, show­ing love of coun­try ahead of self and party. What are the odds that Mr. Trump or the cur­rent Repub­li­can Party would do the same in a con­tested elec­tion today? Con­sid­er­ing Mr. Trump’s ap­par­ent con­tempt for demo­cratic tra­di­tion, and the un­prece­dented ob­struc­tion the GOP has waged against the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, a de­cent and honor­able con­ces­sion would be to­tally out of char­ac­ter.

Al­to­gether, 15 states with some or all of their precincts with elec­tronic vot­ing ma­chines and no back up, will award 208 of the 538 elec­toral votes, mean­ing that hack­ing could turn the elec­tion re­sults topsy-turvy. Even just dis­rupt­ing the re­sults where there are no back­ups to be counted might throw the elec­tion into the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, which would give the GOP an easy vic­tory.

Mr. Trump’s ties to the Rus­sian regime are ob­vi­ous, though we don’t know how deep they run. His tax re­turns might tell, but he re­fuses to re­lease them. Is Mr. Trump in hock up to his or­ange pom­padour to Rus­sian oli­garchs? If so, it would be one debt he can­not avoid re­pay­ing — mak­ing him Mr. Putin’s poo­dle in the White House if elected.


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