Yes, It’s Possible to Hack the Election

From:,  by Richard Clarke,  on Aug 19, 2016,  see the article HERE


After reports of alleged Russian hacking into Democratic Party computer networks, some commentators have suggested that the Russians could hack the results of the U.S. elections. Other analysts have, well before this year’s campaign, suggested that election results in the U.S. could be electronically manipulated, including by our fellow Americans. So could an American election’s outcome be altered by a malicious actor on a computer keyboard?

I have had three jobs that, together, taught me at least one thing: If it’s a computer, it can be hacked. For Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, I served as the White House senior cybersecurity policy adviser. For President Barack Obama, I served on his five-person post–Edward Snowden investigative group on the National Security Agency, intelligence and technology. And for over a decade I have advised American corporations on cybersecurity.

Those experiences confirm my belief that if sophisticated hackers want to get into any computer or electronic device, even one that is not connected to the internet, they can do so.

The U.S., according to media reports, hacked in to the Iranian nuclear centrifuge control system even though the entire system was air-gapped from the internet. The Russians, according to authoritative accounts, hacked into the Pentagon’s SIPRNet, a secret-level system separate from the internet. North Koreans, computer forensics experts have told me,penetrated SWIFT, the international banking exchange system. Iranians allegedly wiped cleanall software on over 30,000 devices in the Aramco oil company. The White House, the State Department and your local fast food joint have all been hacked. Need I go on?

Now consider that a majority of states use some kind of combination of electronic voting and a type of paper trail, but there is no standard nationwide. In most states the data that are used to determine who won an election are processed by networked, computerized devices. There are almost no locations that exclusively use paper ballots. Some states allow direct from home voting over the internet. Others employ electronic voting machines that produce no paper trail, therefore there is nothing to count or recount and no way to ensure that what a voter intended is what was recorded and transmitted.

Some systems produce a paper ballot of record, but that paper is kept only for a recount; votes are recorded by a machine such as an optical scanner and then stored as electronic digits. The counting of the paper ballots of record — when there are such things — is exceedingly rare and is almost never done for verification in the absence of a recount demand.

The verification systems in place in most states can check only two things well. First, they can provide a basis for comparing the number of people who showed up and were allowed to vote at a location with the voter total reported at the end of the day by that precinct. Second, they can compare the total votes for a candidate reported by each precinct to the state capital against the number that the capital says it received from each location.

What they cannot verify without counting paper ballots (if they exist at all) is that your vote for Candidate A showed up in the electronic device tabulating the totals as a vote for Candidate A. The process of recording which person got your vote can — almost always — be hacked.

The ways to hack the election are straightforward and are only slight variants of computer system attacks that we see every day in the private sector and on government networks in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world. Malware can be implanted on voting machines. Almost none of these machines have any kind of malware detection software like those used at major corporations and government agencies. Even if they did, many of those cybersecurity tools are regularly defeated by today’s sophisticated hackers.

At this year’s Black Hat cybersecurity conference, the cybersecurity firm Symtantec had a voting booth to demonstrate the various ways to trick the system.

In America’s often close elections, a little manipulation could go a long way.

In 2000 and 2004, there were only a handful of battleground states that determined which presidential candidate had enough Electoral College votes to win. A slight alteration of the vote in some swing precincts in swing states might not raise suspicion. Smart malware can be programmed to switch only a small percentage of votes from what the voters intended. That may be all that is needed, and that malware can also be programmed to erase itself after it does its job, so there might be no trace it ever happened.

I have to emphasize that we have no evidence that such hacking has ever taken place in the U.S. or that it is about to occur. What we do know is that it could happen. There is nothing to stop it from happening in many parts of the country, and there is not even an effort to see if it is happening.

It does not have to be this way. Congress could create voting security standards for the election of its members and of the president. It has not done so, leaving it instead to the states to protect the integrity of the democratic process.

Minimal election security standards could be simply stated: 1) No vote recording machine shall be connected electronically to any network — including but not limited to local area networks (LANs), Wi-Fi, the internet and virtual private networks (VPNs). 2) Every voting machine must create a paper copy of each vote recorded, and those paper copies must be kept secured for at least a year. 3) A verification audit by sampling shall be conducted within 90 days on a statistically significant level by professional auditors to compare the paper ballots of record with the results recorded and reported.

There are other things that would be nice to have to provide additional levels of assurance. One of the best ideas is that the software used to run voting machines be restricted to open source applications, whose code could be publicly examined. Another proposal that makes sense is that voting machines be required to run a certified malware detection software application before, during and after the voting process.

Some states will, of course, say that there is no risk justifying these proposals. (Many of the states that will claim this will be the same states that passed voter ID fraud laws although there was no evidence of any significant voter fraud.) They will claim that it is not the federal government’s job to regulate the democratic election of federal officials. Finally, many states will protest that verifying our democratic processes would be too expensive for them. That last complaint could be answered by Congress’ paying for its own elections and for the president’s.

If someone makes the charge after this election that the results were altered by hackers, our country has almost no way of credibly refuting that claim. Thus American voters will have no way to know if they can trust the results of the election, unless it is a landslide, so large that it seems unlikely that the winning margin was purely the result of malicious activity.

In any close election, because we have not done the simple things that could protect the integrity of our democratic process, there will be room for doubt.


The democrat’s public position is that they are so sure that there is no appreciable voter fraud and/or voting machine hacking that their very emphatic dismissal of the issues is enough to convince me that they are, in fact, occurring and the democrats have the fraud and hacking mechanisms down to a science. They know that their expertise in these matters is so far superior to that of the Republicans that they don’t even pretend that fraud and hacking need to be addressed. When the democrat candidate gets more votes than are registered in a voting precinct, something is wrong and to attribute that excessive vote to some sort of bureaucratic mistake is ludicrous.

We all should be very wary of this upcoming election. If Hillary is way up in the polls come November, it’s less likely that the dems will take chances on fraud and hacking. After all, there’s no sense in taking chances when their candidate will likely win “fair and square,” but if polls are tight, look out.

They’ll be looking at selected precincts in battleground states, especially those that are using voting machines without verifiable paper trails. As Mr. Clarke stated, in a close election, a relatively small number of votes can change the outcome.

There are currently eleven states that are classified as swing (battleground) states: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan,Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin. These eleven states account for 146 electoral votes, more than half of the 270 needed to win the presidency. Most likely, if any voting machine fraud is going to occur, it’ll be in one or more of these states where a relatively small number of votes could alter the winner and pick up that state’s votes.

I understand that we don’t want to create a problem where one may not exist and we certainly don’t want to call into question election results before the vote even happens, but on the other hand, the results of this election are so important that I believe that the parties could justify any means to win. Sure, the Republicans would cheat if they believe it necessary, it’s just that the democrats have a long and successful track record of election cheating, whereas the Republicans are rookies and aren’t as accomplished as the democrats.

I honestly hope that no accusations of voting irregularities show up, but I wouldn’t bet much money on it.





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11 replies

  1. “Former Bush official Richard Clarke called the Benghazi committee a political ploy to ‘smear” former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton’”

    Richard Clarke is a liberal, which means he’s very selective about what aspects of election integrity interest him. Otherwise I suspect he wouldn’t have found a receptive audience at ABC News. When Clarke says: “Some states will, of course, say that there is no risk justifying these proposals. (Many of the states that will claim this will be the same states that passed voter ID fraud laws although there was no evidence of any significant voter fraud.),” he’s talking about red states, i.e., those that typically vote Republican. One has to scratch his or her head trying to understand why someone who purports to be concerned about hacking in our vote system would, at the same time, scoff at voter ID laws. Could it be that Clarke is concerned about foreign hacking because he thinks Russia might hack to help elect Trump, while voter fraud at the state level is almost always a benefit to Democrats? Knowing a little something about Clarke it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s trying to plant the seeds of doubt about the integrity of the election in the event Trump wins.

    Given the way Clarke has framed this I don’t trust him and I have a better idea. Why don’t we enact and follow through on SEVERE punishments for any and ALL acts of election interference, up to and including death for abusers both foreign and domestic? If election integrity is sincerely Clarke’s concern, that would do a lot more than giving the feds more power to micro-manage state election processes.

    Mr. Clarke’s right on this point, though:

    “In America’s often close elections, a little manipulation could go a long way.”

    Democrats could right the book on that one!


    • That should be “write,” not “right.” Grrrr…..


    • That point, creating doubt in the integrity of our elections, is almost a certainty in the 2016 elections. Whichever party loses, will undoubtedly yell loudly that the results were rigged – hacked – whether they were or not. It sets them up to call the results into question. If something isn’t done about our election mechanics soon, elections will become jokes and will be on their way out. I’m not even sure that severe punishment will do any good, does capital punishment (death penalty) stop murders? I just think that we need to revamp the voting systems themselves and standardize them. They need to be “unhackable” so citizens can have confidence in their vote. I do think that it can be done.


      • My concern is that standardizing means putting the feds in charge, and all too often that means giving Democrats total control. If they can find a way to cheat (and they always do), they will do it on a national scale. At least when states control the process the Dems can only control certain states. I do, however, understand your take on it. I might be able to support standardization if accompanied by the harsh penalties for fraud that I talked about. We’ll never know how many murders were prevented by the threat of the death penalty, but generally speaking the harsher the punishments the less common the crime.


      • Actually we aren’t far apart on this issue CW. What I mean by “standardizing” is identifying “standard” specifications that equipment must meet. I’m assuming that it would be “open source” specs such that several manufacturers could build their own equipment of their own design as long as it met the “standardized” specs. That way the feds wouldn’t be choosing a particular manufacturer – counties would still purchase their own equipment from whichever mfg. won their bid, BUT the internal firmware and software would all meet the overall specs. And I don’t disagree with the stringent penalties for misadventures, I just don’t want to rely on penalties alone.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Color me suspicious, but in 2012 when voters complained that machines were recording votes for O instead of Romney, there was already fraud going on. For years I’ve maintained that our voting process should be standardized, but I’m not so sure it would be safe if it were controlled by the government.

    Right now they like things the way they are because it makes manipulation easier in some states. As long as they have that decree in place that forbids the Republicans from challenging voter fraud, they’ll never make efforts to standardize it. Chaos can hide a lot of things and they relish that.


    • I believe that the nation’s voting machines should be standardized. The specifications would have to be defined by the federal government, but the manufacturing could be distributed to several companies. That could still allow state jurisdictions to choose which supplier would provide their machines. I say that because the contract going to a single manufacturer would be so monumental, that all sorts of games would impact the choosing of a supplier. I’m saying that the specs would be “open source” and any manufacturer could build one. Of course, they’d have to pass testing before being salable to the state’s authorities. I think that the DRE (direct recording electronic) with VVPAT (voter-verified paper audit trail) is the way to go. That way a voter can verify that the paper “receipt” shows that the votes were recorded properly according to his/her wishes. From that point, everything happens electronically, but random audit tests could assure that what was electronically recorded matches the printed audit trail. The paper audit trail can also be used to recount when necessary.


  3. We use optical scanned paper ballots at our polling places. But as the author says, those are just converted to electronic totals for reporting. These could be manipulated via malware in the original counting, summation, or reportage to County tabulation centers. There again the data can be corrupted on the way to Austin for State summary. And even transmission from there can be suspect.

    But as the quote from Stalin asserts, it isn’t the technology that would be to blame, but the evil in the hearts of those seeking to subvert truthful electoral results to their benefit. Such satanic lust for power goes back to The Fall of Adam itself, and thus it shall in this heaven and Earth so long as it abides.


    • Well at least your paper ballots give your precincts a way to do a real recount. Where I vote, we’re using one of the new-fangled touch screen machines and there is NO way for me to be assured that the people I voted for actually will get my votes. Once I’ve “approved” the ballot, it is henceforth in God’s hands as far as I know because there is NO way to recount the votes, much less verify that they were counted correctly. But you’re right, once your paper ballot is scanned, it becomes just like my ballot, just a bunch of electronic binary ones and zeroes – and this is supposed to be “progress”?



  1. The pen is mightier than… the touch screen? – Amelie Coulais Opinions

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