Voting

Hacking the Vote

Could Putin's army of internet trolls pick our next president?

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PutinIgorDolgovDreamstime
Igor Dolgov/Dreamstime

Lots of voters, especially Republicans, are worried about voter fraud. GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump stoked those fears when he warned supporters, "I'm afraid the election's going to be rigged. I have to be honest." These fears and not-so-subtle efforts to skew voter registration in partisan directions have prompted strict voter ID requirements in several states with the purported aim of preventing the almost non-existent crime of voter impersonation fraud. But a recent Federal Bureau of Investigation "flash alert" suggests that the real threat of voter fraud might come from abroad.

Earlier this week, reports surfaced that the FBI has warned election officials in Illinois and Arizona that their voter databases had been penetrated by intruders linked to IP addresses associated with Russian hackers. The hackers managed to download personal data on 200,000 Illinois voters and posted online the username and password of a user with access to the Arizona voter registration database. This cyber-intrusion followed on the now notorious hacks of the Democratic National Committee's dossier on Trump and later its email system. The release of those emails by WikiLeaks showed that DNC officials favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders and led to Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz's resignation as Democratic Party chair.

The reports of voter registration database hacking provoked Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to send a letter to FBI Director James Comey that claimed "Russia's intent to influence the outcome of our presidential election has been well-documented by numerous news organizations." Reid also suggested that the Russian government might try to target American voting systems to throw the election to Trump. "The prospect of a hostile government actively seeking to undermine our free and fair elections," he wrote, "represents one of the gravest threats to our democracy since the Cold War."

There is, of course, more than one way to interfere in an election. It isn't paranoid to worry about a Russian disinformation campaign aimed at confusing Americans. A fascinating and disquieting Rand Corporation review, titled "The Russian 'Firehose of Falsehood' Propaganda Model," finds that "the Russian propaganda model is high-volume and multichannel, and it disseminates messages without regard for the truth. It is also rapid, continuous, and repetitive, and it lacks commitment to consistency." Recent Russian disinformation ranges from hacking an official Ukrainian website to claim a far-right candidate had won that country's 2014 presidential election to a social-media hijack trying to panic Louisiana residents with reports of a chemical plant explosion.

But is it actually possible for Russian agents to stuff American ballot boxes? Probably not.

America's decentralized electoral system is a significant bulwark against hacking the vote. There are some 8,000 jurisdictions in the U.S., and they use a mix of disparate electronic and paper balloting systems. Hackers trying to influence a national election would have to attack a whole bunch of individual machines, each with different software. On top of that, 75 percent of Americans will vote this year using paper ballots. (Of course, erasing voter registration rolls in key states just before the election would be disruptive, to say the least.)

For years, many researchers have been warning that our electronic voting machines are vulnerable. Only last year were the "worst voting machines" in America decertified by the board of elections in my home state of Virginia. (The machines left no paper trail and were so insecure that they could be hacked from the parking lot of the polling place.) Still, there is no evidence that those machines were in fact tampered with during any election. And even if they were, that in itself is unlikely to be enough to swing the results nationally.

If Russians can't effectively hack our voting machines, they can still try to introduce a little havoc into our elections. For example, according to New Yorker reporter Adrian Chen, Moscow-sponsored trolls operate a bunch of Twitter accounts to pose as conservative Trump fans. The point is not necessarily to get Trump elected, notes Chen, but rather "to overwhelm social media with a flood of fake content, seeding doubt and paranoia, and destroying the possibility of using the Internet as a democratic space."

Mercatus Center researcher Eli Dourado and his colleague Raymond Russell warn that Russian efforts like the DNC and voter registration hacks could be aimed at trying "to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election results themselves." They worry that Russian disinformation "could subvert our democratic tradition for years to come."

With his dark insinuations that the election is "rigged," Trump risks playing the role of useful idiot in Putin's stealth campaign to sow discord and induce greater distrust among Americans.

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  1. With his dark insinuations that the election is “rigged,” Trump risks playing the role of useful idiot in Putin’s stealth campaign to sow discord and induce greater distrust among Americans.

    “Never interfere with your enemy when he is making a mistake.”

    1. I would have said “N’interropez jamais un ennemi qui est en train de faire une erreur,” but I do not want to be mistaken for Rufus.

    2. Putin’s stealth campaign to sow discord and induce greater distrust among Americans

      I’m confused – I thought this place were running an open campaign to sow discord and induce greater distrust among Americans. Now you’re suggesting you’d prefer people to be united in their trust in government?

      1. It’s just a byproduct of TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome). Or it just keeps Ron on the the Cocktail invite list. And before he goes ahead and denies it or plays stupid – Mangu-Ward let it slip in her talk with Postrel. She confirmed the long-suspected conspiracy.

      2. The answer is in the article:

        A fascinating and disquieting Rand Corporation review, titled “The Russian ‘Firehose of Falsehood’ Propaganda Model,” finds that “the Russian propaganda model is high-volume and multichannel, and it disseminates messages without regard for the truth. It is also rapid, continuous, and repetitive, and it lacks commitment to consistency.”

        The Russians are running a simultaneous open campaign and a stealth campaign “to sow discord and induce greater distrust among Americans”.

        They’re also trying to get Trump elected via Manafort and Clinton via Podesta.

    3. My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do… http://www.14earnpath.com

  2. Reid also suggested that the Russian government might try to target American voting systems to throw the election to Trump.

    And as we all know, everything Harry Reid says is based on a rigorous evaluation of evidence and cautious-but-solid reasoning.

  3. But a recent Federal Bureau of Investigation “flash alert” suggests that the real threat of voter fraud might come from abroad.

    What are they worried about? People have looked into voter fraud and not found it. Because people who would risk incarceration for a favorable election result routinely leave evidence of fraudulent activity behind.

  4. This is how the birthers got started.

    1. Or so you would have us believe.

  5. But a recent Federal Bureau of Investigation “flash alert” suggests that the real threat of voter fraud might come from abroad.

    That’s the same FBI that refused to prosecute one of the candidates for obvious, blatant criminal activity?

    Yeah, I’m sure they are giving us the straight scoop. They would never let political considerations cloud their judgment, nosireebob.

    1. real threat of voter fraud might come from abroad.

      But enough about Hillary Clinton!

  6. 1984

    Since the 1940’s, the agency has played a covert role in elections and in the affairs of political parties in other countries, according to a variety of news reports, books, Congressional investigations and secret testimony from C.I.A. officials.

    1997

    Members of both political parties express horror at accusations that the Chinese may have tried to use covert campaign donations to influence American policy, but the United States has long meddled in other nations’ internal affairs.

    Congress routinely appropriates tens of millions of dollars in covert and overt money to use in influencing domestic politics abroad.

    The National Endowment for Democracy, created 15 years ago to do in the open what the Central Intelligence Agency has done surreptitiously for decades, spends $30 million a year to support things like political parties, labor unions, dissident movements and the news media in dozens of countries, including China.

    1. Then of course we had the US hand in remodeling Yugoslavia in the 1990s, meddling in Eastern Europe and South East Asia in in the early 2000s, the recent Ukranian thing…. anything i’m not thinking of?

      1. Obama’s recent comments on the Brexit. Federal dollars going to Netanyahu’s opponents. Every country from Morocco to Pakistan (even excluding the outright nation building or wars-but-not-wars we have scattered about).

        1. Obama’s recent comments on the Brexit. Federal dollars going to Netanyahu’s opponents.

          Yeah, both of these are definitely relevant.

      2. anything i’m not thinking of?

        South and Central America

        1. covered in the first link

      3. US interventions in the Russian/Soviet politics in 1918-1920.

    2. Who cares? Those are lesser countries.

      1. What makes a country one of these lesser countries you speak of?

  7. Trump doesn’t need the Russians’ help but I’d still love to see a 99% popular vote landslide!

  8. (Reuters, November 9, 2016) “The stunning upset victory of Jill Stein in yesterday’s US presidential election has many pundits wondering if their might have been hacking of the voting machines.”

    1. Leave it to Reuters to get the story wrong – it wasn’t Stein’s victory that was so stunning, it was her margin of victory of nearly a billion votes that caught everybody by surprise.

      1. Fortunately, five trillion uncounted Clinton votes in Chicago, Cleveland, Harlem, Miami, Philadelphia, California and Seattle were discovered the next day, so it turned out the polls had been right after all.

        (There were also 234 uncounted Trump votes found, so you know this was the result of a fair check.

    2. (UPI, September 25, 2016) “Putin declared ineligible to participate in debates despite leading in polls.”

  9. These fears and not-so-subtle efforts to skew voter registration in partisan directions have prompted strict voter ID requirements in several states with the purported aim of preventing the almost non-existent crime of voter impersonation fraud.

    Its very hard to give any kind of reliable upper bound on this kind of fraud. We only know what we catch, not what we don’t catch.

    Some very peculiar voting results should make you suspicious that our voting system is clean of fraud, and that fraud hasn’t changed any outcomes. How much is impersonation fraud and how much is from other sources is something we just don’t know. I tend to think the bulk of voting fraud occurs in other ways, myself, but the shit state of our election security needs to be addressed.

    1. Pennsylvania is a great state for voter fraud, I’d imagine. Lot of rural red districts, but then some large urban areas like Philly where entire counties go 98% Democrat or something like that and no one bats an eye. I mean, the Kim’s/North Korea don’t even give themselves that many votes in their propaganda.

      1. Philly was notorious (and I imagine still is) for voter fraud. After the 2000 election, when the Commonwealth took more or less central control of the election process, Philadelphia fought hard to stay out of it. My local election bureau director claimed it wasn’t really a secret among the other counties what they were doing. Several times they’ve been caught preloading votes.

      2. I believe they had precincts with 100% of the vote for Obama, which is pretty unbelievable.

  10. “the Russian propaganda model is high-volume and multichannel, and it disseminates messages without regard for the truth. It is also rapid, continuous, and repetitive, and it lacks commitment to consistency.”

    You know who el…

  11. America’s decentralized electoral system is a significant bulwark against hacking the vote. There are some 8,000 jurisdictions in the U.S., and they use a mix of disparate electronic and paper balloting systems. Hackers trying to influence a national election would have to attack a whole bunch of individual machines, each with different software. On top of that, 75 percent of Americans will vote this year using paper ballots. (Of course, erasing voter registration rolls in key states just before the election would be disruptive, to say the least.)

    And yet, the Obama administration just kind of suggested they’d kind of like to gets its nose under the tent.

    1. The Feds acknowledging some validity of Trumps suggestion has made me more suspicious that they may actually fudge the numbers against him. Why do they suddenly have so much interest in talking about this publicly?

  12. I haven’t seen anyone explain what Russia would have to gain from Trump winning. Is there something to this, or is it just TDS?

    1. I believe that according to Shikha Dalmia, Trump is the excuse the Russians need to deal with their Jew problem.

    2. grizzly (who is Russian) had what seemed like a plausible explanation a few weeks ago. But I can’t remember what it was.

      1. Ye shall now remember, Zebulon…

        grrizzly|7.26.16 @ 8:16PM|#

        Respect. Putin is tired of being criticized for violating various international rules and human rights by the Western leaders. He is certain that the West demonstrates doubles standards and hypocrisy when it deals with Russia. He believes that Trump doesn’t care about this “bullshit” and will treat him and Russia with respect that the world power like Russia deserves.

        I’ve been cribbing librarian skillz from Saccharin Man.

        1. Well done.

          What do you think of that explanation, living in that part of the world?

    3. I haven’t seen anyone explain what Russia would have to gain from Trump winning. Is there something to this, or is it just TDS?

      Its notable that Hillary Clinton’s “Flagship” policy when she was secretary of state was her “Reset Button”-initiative with Russia.

      she considered “Reconciliation and normalization of relations with Russia” to be a key-US-interest at the time.

      It was serious. We spent a lot of time and effort trying to get cooperation from them on Afghanistan/Pakistan-related issues. They themselves had their own serious ‘terror problem’. We were spending a lot on nuclear security which we suddenly needed more assurances on.

      There were some setbacks in the 2008 Russia/Georgia conflict over Ossetia. Clinton wanted to paper that shit over and ensure there was continued moves in a ‘better direction’. We agreed to not build a “missile shield” in Eastern Europe in exchange for greater cooperation from Russia against Iran.

      in general, things were going OK. Then Ukraine, Syria.

      What’s bizarre is Clinton posturing now as though Putin were a natural “enemy”, which is the exact opposite of her official stance when Sec State.

      1. You will find this of interest, GIMORE(tm).

        From then-Sen. Shrill Bot, circa 2008:

        The United States has always favored the closest possible ties between NATO and Ukraine, including the creation of the NATO-Ukraine Council. We have always insisted on an open door policy for European democracies that want to join the Alliance. The enlargement of NATO is not directed against any state; NATO does not see any nation as its enemy. I pledge to support Ukraine’s efforts to meet the criteria for MAP and eventual membership. The United States should actively encourage our NATO Allies to deepen their own ties with Ukraine, a country that has broken with an authoritarian past and pursues good relations with all its neighbors. Ukraine deserves a chance to pursue its aspirations for a wider role in the Euro-Atlantic community. In the same spirit, I call on the Bush Administration to give Ukraine all the support it needs to complete its accession to the World Trade Organization.

        As President, I will ensure that the United States does everything necessary to help Ukraine realize these important and achievable goals.

        Ukraine, the lil’ road apple, no?

      2. And from later in 2008:

        I also call on President Bush to immediately send a senior representative to Tbilisi to show our support for the government of Georgia. The United States should raise this matter in the United Nations Security Council, in a special 26+1 session of NATO’s North Atlantic Council (NAC), and in the NATO-Russia Council. Russia needs to hear a unified message from the United States and our European partners about our shared commitment to Georgia’s security and territorial integrity.

        These are not the only Russian moves that I have found troubling. Senior Russian officials have engaged in a pressure campaign to prevent Ukraine from seeking deeper ties with NATO. President Putin even raised the prospect of retargeting nuclear missiles against Ukraine.

        I am not advocating, nor do I envisage, a return to a new Cold War with Russia, which I believe ought to remain in the G-8, where the United States and its allies can together address our growing list of concerns with Moscow. But the current Administration’s mishandling of Russian relations has contributed to Moscow’s belief that it can do as it pleases. America and its allies can and must do better.

        1. I’m not surprised by that. Its funny that in 2008 she’s suggesting she’s at odds with “The current administration” (bush) when in fact she’s mostly echoing the standard line on keeping an open-door for Ukraine in NATO, and expressing ‘concerns’ about Russian interests in former satellite states.

          the idea of the “Reset” posture didn’t come into existence until she was part of the Obama admin. and I think it was probably handed to her by others who thought that the right posture was to “neutralize” russia (because we needed them in Afghanistan and vs. Iran) rather than antagonize them.

    4. I’d think Putin would prefer Hillary, if for no other reason (drink!) than because he’s got all that dirty on her from having her private server. How fun would it be to blackmail the POTUS?

      1. This is my prediction.

  13. Putin’s stealth campaign to sow discord and induce greater distrust among Americans.

    I missed the part where there was any proof of a “Campaign” at all? much less any insight into “why” such a thing would be done other than because ‘they can’.

    hackers hack. hackers hacking isn’t proof of anything except that hacking is easy, widespread.

    I don’t doubt it exists.

    what i doubt are the motives of the people suggesting that “hacking” is itself WORSE than the evidence of political-party-corruption which some hacking has uncovered.

    1. Must be like how I missed the evidence for the Russians hacking the DNC servers. It Is Known, apparently, but damned if I can recall anyone presenting any proof.

      1. There have been “russian servers” identified.

        Which can mean anything, but the media has chosen that to mean ‘Russian-directed’ efforts.

        The fact is that russian-servers are involved in everything on the internet. they’re super-popular w/ software pirates, hackers of all origins.

  14. RE: Hacking the Vote
    Could Putin’s army of internet trolls pick our next president?

    Well, I don’t know if the hackers can pick our next president, but I’m sure they can pick the nose of our next president.

  15. GARY JOHNSON IS HACKING THE ELECTION!

    1. He just needs some NyQuil, or maybe some Codeine/Promethazine. He’s entirely too sharp and energetic. He needs to be more measured. More, “chill.”

  16. I really don’t see all the fuss about the security of voting machines.

    To follow the logic of voter ID laws, we really shouldn’t care until lots of people are convicted for hacking voting machines.

  17. “…Moscow-sponsored trolls operate a bunch of Twitter accounts to pose as conservative Trump fans.”
    Wait, SIV works for the Ruskies?

    1. Maybe Tony, AmSoc, and AM work for the Russian, too?

  18. The more likely scenario is that the same folks who already lie their asses off to keep Hillary out of jail (e.g. the media and the DOJ/FBI), are laying the narrative groundwork to nullify the election results if Trump wins.

    1. The more likely scenario is that the same folks who already lie their asses off to keep Hillary out of jail (e.g. the media and the DOJ/FBI), are laying the narrative groundwork to nullify the election results if Trump wins.

      That would be stupidity on a level even they have not yet demonstrated. They’re not going to start another civil war just to put Hillary in charge. They’ll do whatever they can to fudge the “official” results but if Trump gets the votes to win, they’ll just use the legislature and civil service to get what they want, instead.

      1. I would say “we’ll see”, but that would only apply if he wins, so probably not.

      2. They’re not going to start another civil war just to put Hillary in charge.

        I think you overestimate them. Your comment indicates that you believe they have decency, common sense, and a sense of proportion. I see little evidence for these traits in political operatives in or out of media.

      3. They’ll do whatever they can to fudge the “official” results but if Trump gets the votes to win, they’ll just use the legislature and civil service to get what they want, instead.

        When Trump is President, who will be his Humphrey Appleby?

        1. Humbert Humbert.

  19. I don’t see why Russian officials would interfere with voting results so as to throw the election to Trump. Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to aid Hillary? Since there seems little doubt that Russian intelligence, among others, hacked her private server and has its entire contents, pre-wiping, why not at least try to use that as leverage against her?

    I expect her victory would be welcomed by Putin — he’d have unprecedented influence over an American president. With Trump, what’s he going to do? Try to embarrass him by revealing his Hair Club For Men membership? Trump is pretty much beyond the ability to embarrass.

    1. If the Russians compromise both leading candidates, it wouldn’t matter to them if either one won?

  20. The cocktail partiers, the media and the Democrats (but I repeat myself) are whooping up the Putin Bogeyman to deflect attention from Democrat voting fraud.

    Imagine having DHS monitor the election, as has been suggested, and one imagines the final glidepath to a banana republic that doesn’t even produce bananas.

    1. What makes me scratch my head is the Democrats in particular were gloating about how we were resetting relations and now Russia our bestest buddy ever. I mean, they handed over so much Uranium to them that surely we must be pals, right?

      1. What makes me scratch my head is the Democrats in particular were gloating about how we were resetting overcharging relations

        FTFY

    2. Not voting fraud but Democratic corruption and incompetence as evidenced by the DNC email leaks.

  21. How do you know there’s a tiny or non-existent amount of voter fraud? Serious question. I hear people say this all the time, but what would you do to find voter fraud exactly?

    1. The first indication is ferocious opposition to picture IDs for voting.

      1. BUT DRIVURS LIZENZ ARE RAYSIST!!!!

  22. What continues to bother me, as someone who works in IT, is that anyone would think that connecting voting machines to the Internet is a good idea. Same with power plants, etc. An air gap isn’t fool-proof, but FFS, it’s the first step!

    1. Automatic updates, I’m sure.

      Much easier to have the voting machines update themselves from internet servers that to use a workstation to download updates to a USB drive, plug it into an update server on an isolated voting machine LAN and update them from there.

      Probably also for instant vote count updates? voting machines check in with the Secretary of State’s office to report votes periodically. Not that that couldn’t be done on an isolated LAN?

  23. represents one of the gravest threats to our democracy since the Cold War.

    Well, I suppose it’s a goddamned good thing that the US is not a democracy, ain’t it?

  24. If Putin’s attempt to intervene in US elections fails, he can always intervene in our political process like we did in theirs: Invade.

  25. I admired the Russian Soviet as adversaries, and many of my friends are their renegade former serfs. But it is disconcerting imagine a hypothetical backlash against the Dems–completely submissive censer-swingers to communist totalitarianism–and in favor of the nationalsocialist Trumpeters. It is like an alternate universe, of the Red Army shooting their officers and rushing out of the trenches to embrace the White Terror as comrades-in-arms in Byelorussia in 1920. That or stepping astride the border into Poland winking and grinning in a brotherly hand-clasp uniting Christian National Socialist volkegnosse and the former tovarishi… A pity so much of the world is still stuck at the Hitler-Stalin pact.

  26. So now Reason is now throwing in its lot with the neo-McCarthyists?? I laughed when the dems tried to deflect all of this onto the Russians, because I couldn’t believe that even your average dem voter would take it seriously for one minute. This all started when Julian Assange (an Australian) released leaked documents from Seth Rich (an American). And regardless of who leaked what, shooting the messenger doesn’t change the facts. Stop playing into the propaganda.

  27. They couldn’t ‘hack the vote’ is we kept to paper ballots. Sure, they take longer, but can be recounted and verified.

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  38. So the Russians are trying the things that the liberal media are doing…massive disinformation and potential voter fraud ( no ID required). So where is the problem…the outcome for the liberals is known, so which way are the Russians pushing? A Trump win should mean more US military strength, Hillary the opposite… And what are US hackers doing to Russia?

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