President Barack Obama said “no serious person” could rig an election in the U.S. while at a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.
Obama is responding to comments from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump whereby he expressed worries of the democratic process being undermined.
“I’ve never seen in my lifetime or in modern political history any presidential candidate trying to discredit the elections and the election process before votes have even taken place,” Obama said.
These comments come only around a couple weeks after the president officially blamed Russia for leaking sensitive emails. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement that the hacks “are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process,” according to The New York Times.
Still, Obama and the White House are planning on inviting tons of officials from foreign countries, including Russia, to inspect and observe the American electoral process.
Yury Melnik, a spokesperson for the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., told the Washington Post that they are interested in sending officials to watch Americans cast their ballots.
FBI Director James Comey agrees with Obama that it would be difficult to rig the election, saying that the advantage of the U.S. voting system is how outdated and spread out it is.
“The beauty of the American voting system is that it is dispersed among the 50 states, and it is clunky as heck,” Comey opined, according to The Wall Street Journal.
But Obama and Comey’s contentions that the election will be extremely difficult to rig are somewhat surprising given the almost countless number of cyber-breaches on the government that have occurred over recent months and years.
From the hacks of the Democratic National Committee, to the large-scale data theft of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), there have been a litany of instances where the government’s cybersecurity vulnerabilities were exposed (see: John Podesta email leaks.)
A University of Michigan professor demonstrated how easy it is to hack voting technology. Alex Halderman was able to infiltrate a voting system in Washington, D.C., from more than 500 miles away, according to Politico. He was also able to demonstrate the relative simplicity of directly and physically manipulating a voting machine’s results with just a screwdriver and read-only memory (ROM) chips.
“The erosion of democratic institutions is a true objective,” Igor Volovich, a cybersecurity expert, explained in an interview with Matt K. Lewis, a senior contributor for The Daily Caller.
“It’s very easy; you just compromise the polling stations. You compromise the polling boxes. You compromise the portal that reports the news. And we saw all of that take place in Ukraine in 2014,” Volovich continued.
Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon also expressed his concern over foreign hackers rigging the election, adding another voice to the chorus.
“We should not underestimate how dangerous … attacks on election systems could be,” Wyden wrote in an email to Ars Technica.
Obama and Comey referenced the fact that U.S. election system is too decentralized to be rigged, saying that state and local officials manage the process.
But states and localities aren’t necessarily more adept with securing sensitive information. Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp inadvertently mailed out twelve discs that contained the private data of millions of Georgians roughly a year ago, according to ThinkProgress. Kemp admitted that he was “no expert on data security.”In a completely separate incident, approximately 40,000 voter registration files in Georgia mysteriously vanished.
Georgia is one of five states that employs an all-electronic voting system with no “Paper Audit Trail Printers” to backup the data in case the information is altered, obscured or deleted.
Polls released yesterday show that even though Obama thinks the prospect of the election being rigged is far-fetched, some Americans disagree. Forty-one percent of people in the U.S., regardless of party affiliation, agree with Trump that the election could ultimately be rigged.
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