It would be virtually impossible for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton to rig the election, according to professor John Gilmour of the College of William and Mary.
Even though parts of the American electoral system are vulnerable to hacking, fraud or voter impersonation, it would be far more difficult to alter the outcome of a national election than typically thought and relatively easy to catch. The logistical difficulties of “rigging” a national election are far greater than simply hacking a few voting machines, Gilmour said.
“Trump doesn’t explain what he means when he says the election will be rigged but goes back and forth from saying that the media is against him and that it will be stolen via voter fraud,” Gilmour, who teaches government, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“The more important thing to address is if the election will be affected by fraud at the polls,” he said. “There is such a thing as voter fraud, but voting is controlled overwhelmingly at the local level and fraud tends to occur at that level, making it very unlikely to swing a national election.”
Gilmour said altering the outcome of a presidential election through fraud would be very difficult since it’s impossible to forecast how many votes are required to to steal the race. There’s also a greater chance of getting caught the more votes you steal.
“If you were some master puppeteer trying to rig the election, it would be very difficult to know where to put your resources and what exact states you should put resources into to rig things,” Gilmour said. “The election would have to be very very close for fraud to play an impact. If there’s rigging going on in elections these days, it’s more at the state politics level.”
“One of the difficult things is that large scale fraud is hard to get away with,” Gilmour added. “If you come up with a 50,000 vote margin in a particular county and the county only has 40,000 voters, you can’t easily explain that. Voter fraud can matter, but only in a really close election. It is very rare for a state to be decided by less than a few thousand votes.”
Even if the vote count in an individual state were rigged, it probably wouldn’t impact the results of a national election.
“Most elections aren’t even decided by one state,” Gilmour told TheDCNF. “Things like the butterfly ballots in Florida in 2000 are once-in-a-lifetime events. One of the difficult things is that large scale fraud is hard to get away with. If you come up with a 50,000 vote margin in a particular county and the county only has 40,000 voters, you can’t easily explain that.”
As a result of these factors, rigging is much easier to pull off in close state level races as they are inherently much more predictable and less fraud is needed to alter the outcome. This isn’t to say that some level of fraud doesn’t occur in presidential elections, only that it generally doesn’t dictate the outcome.
“In Philadelphia in 2012, there were some precincts where there weren’t any votes for Romney which looks suspicious,” Gilmour said. “That could have been fraud on a small scale, but it almost certainly wasn’t enough to change the outcome of the state. It was a few thousand votes maximum, and Romney lost the state by a lot more than that.”
Fraud is much more likely to affect the outcome of a state level election, which has been successfully done by Democrats several times in the past.
“When Lyndon B. Johnson won a Senate election in 1948, it was the result of a county official holding onto his county’s votes until all other jurisdictions had reported, and then he could know exactly how much to cheat,” Gilmour said. “That being said, there was cheating going both ways and it was very close.”
Computer experts previously told TheDCNF rigging votes in the presidential election would be “easy” because America’s voting systems are about as secure as a home computer, and are run by poll workers with little digital technology expertise.
Rigging a national election, however, would require a much greater degree of coordination across hundreds or thousands of cities and counties.
The vulnerability of the country’s 9,000 voting jurisdictions is “an epidemic in our democracy,” James Scott, ICIT senior fellow and co-author of the paper with ICIT researcher Drew Spaniel, previously told TheDCNF. “They say your vote matters, but looking at this, how do you know?”
Yahoo News reported in August that foreign hackers accessed two states’ election databases, prompting the FBI to warn officials across the country to enhance their computer systems’ security.
Hackers reportedly downloaded the personal data of up to 200,000 voters in Illinois, and installed malicious software in Arizona’s voter registration system.
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