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Election Stealing May Become The Norm in America: Will the 2016 Primaries Be Electronically Rigged?

Photo by Ville Oksanen.
Photo by Ville Oksanen.

By Victoria Collier and Ben Ptashnik
"You've heard the old adage 'follow the money.' I follow the vote, and wherever the vote becomes an electron and touches a computer, that's an opportunity for a malicious actor potentially to ... make bad things happen." — Steve Stigall, CIA cyber-security expert, in remarks to the US Election Assistance Commission
Primary election rigging in the coming weeks and months is all but assured if American voters and candidates don't take steps to prevent it now. Evidence that US voting systems are wide open to fraud and manipulation should be taken seriously in light of the unprecedented high-stakes elections we're facing.

Not in recent history have American voters been presented with such radically polarized candidates, forcing a crucial choice for the direction of our future, and possibly upending long-established centers of power.

It's no secret that US primaries have been tightly controlled by the two ruling parties, usually to the benefit of their favored candidates. If this internal manipulation (some might call it rigging) is not publicly condoned, neither is it loudly condemned.

This year, however, the primary season is shaping up to be a battle royal between the political establishment and outsider insurgencies who are challenging the party elites and defying their usual filters, money and manipulations. And it seems all bets are off.

As a brazen Donald Trump kicks down the door of the GOP, tens of millions in super PAC dark cash has (so far) failed to buy the candidacy for a lackluster Jeb Bush. Accusations abound that Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz has stacked the deck for Hillary Clinton. Yet nothing - not even corporate media's censorship or outright hostility toward Bernie Sanders - has blunted his skyrocketing grassroots campaign.

You might ask: What is left, then, for the party powerful to ensure outcomes in 2016? Would any of them be so desperate as to actually rig the final vote count? Could they?

Indeed, they could.

But to be fair, so could a lot of other people. Local fixers, insider operatives, rogue hackers and even foreign countries could all rig US elections - in whole or part, in 50 states and most of the United States' 3,143 counties - electronically, and without detection.

The potential for this vote-rigging cyberwar is the result of an ongoing crisis in US democracy - a silent coup of sorts. Over many decades, US elections have been quietly outsourced to a small group of private voting machine companies, some with extreme partisan ties and criminal records. They have now almost entirely replaced our publicly counted paper ballots with their secretly programmed, easily hacked electronic voting technology.

For example, the Diebold AccuVote-TS Touchscreen voting machine was recently analyzed by Princeton computer security professors. They found that malicious software running on a single voting machine can be installed in as little as one minute, spreading invisibly from machine to machine through a virus, while stealing votes with little risk of detection.

While recent laws have limited essential hand-counting audits - in some cases making them actually illegal - in 18 states voting machines are used that produce no paper ballot at all, making verification of the results impossible.

Threats to the 2016 Elections

In 2016, Americans will once again cast their votes into this lawless electronic void, and no, we can't solve the problem before these game-changing primary elections. But shining a light on our voting systems does make a difference - as does getting out to vote: Voter apathy and ignorance create the ideal conditions for election rigging. Huge turnout makes election rigging less feasible, particularly when the pre-election polls or exit polls diverge more than 10 percent from actual vote returns. Manipulations usually happen when the spread between candidates is smaller than 10 percent.

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