A Silver Lining to the DNC Hack & Trump’s “Vote Stealing” Conspiracy Talk

Donald Trump can see the handwriting on the wall. The American people have judged him and found him wanting, and it appears that absent a surprising turnaround he is headed for a big defeat.

So Trump is doing what he usually does in the face of adversity: dodging accountability, lashing out and fanning the flames of conspiracy mongering. Most recently he is claiming that if he loses, it will only be because of some form of “cheating” at the polls. In his usual fashion he doesn’t state what form this supposed “cheating” will take, and it’s not clear that even he knows for sure. For Republicans, the prospect of Democratic malfeasance at the ballot box is usually tinged with racist overtones as rural white conservatives construct a fantasy parallel universe in which urban minority voters cast multiple votes or assume the identities of absent non-voters. There is, of course, no evidence that any of this actually takes place: these scenarios are the false fever dreams of prejudiced minds.

Increasingly, however, concerns about this sort of “voter fraud” are giving way to worries about the integrity of electronic voting machines. This used to be almost solely the province of the left: there remains widespread distrust about what actually happened in Ohio in 2004 to deliver George W. Bush his unexpected victory. There is also some very disturbing evidence of potential electronic voting shenanigans in deep-red Kansas that, if true, may have helped Sam Brownback and his allies to gain and retain their positions.

It is easy to dismiss these concerns as the refuge of sore losers–and it’s certainly true that as Democrats have had greater success in presidential year elections, worries about vote hacking have subsided. It’s not surprising that as conservatives face down a potentially disastrous defeat in 2016 that many may take comfort in the notion of the final results being fabricated.

But conspiracy theories aside, electronic voting in the United States really is painfully easy to manipulate, as numerous recent stories have shown. If there hasn’t been a successful attempt to abuse the system, it’s only because we’re lucky. Moreover, the ongoing saga of the DNC hack by probable foreign agents shows easy it would be for actors even outside the country to affect our election systems, to say nothing of partisan agents within the various agencies and corporations that handle and tabulate vote data from electronic voting machines.

It’s no surprise, then, that Americans on both sides of the aisle are less confident than ever that our votes are counted accurately. That is obviously bad for the country and bad for democracy. In a nation as bitterly divided as America is today, an election result widely believed to be fraudulent would have disruptive effects on the social fabric that could lead to violence and instability.

The easiest way to alleviate the problem would be to mandate voter-verified paper trails and receipts in every precinct, as well as individual human verification of at least a statistical sampling of vote-by-mail ballot tallies.

Back when concerns about electronic voting were only coming from the left, the powers that be tended to ignore them. One can hope that with conspiracy-minded conservatives joining the chorus and with the breaching of security in a highly-placed partisan apparatus, the country may finally see some action taken to secure the integrity of our democracy.

David Atkins

David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.