The “right to vote” in America has been taking something of a licking recently.
Last week Yahoo reported that the FBI was trying to find out how Internet hackers accessed hundreds of thousands of voter registration records in Illinois and Arizona. As if a further reminder was needed in the age of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, the unauthorized access to voter records underscored the vulnerability of the nation’s computer system and the impact that exposure could have on constitutional institutions, said Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler.
He and other officers of the National Association of Secretaries of State on Aug. 15 discussed cyber security with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson. Johnson offered assistance, perhaps making voting records part of the nation’s secured infrastructure.
But that might be too much help from the federal government in what essentially is a state and local function. “We think making elections on par with the electrical grid and the banking system is overkill,” Schedler said last week. He’s giving testimony in Washington later this week.
Besides, these voter registration breaches seem to be more about greed than about influencing American elections, which was more the goal in hacking the Democratic National Committee, Schedler said.
Election databases hold personal information that, when used in concert with other easily obtainable data, provides the keys to bank accounts and credit cards.
Voter registration records in Illinois and Arizona are connected to the Internet. Only part of the information is connected in Louisiana, the rest is squirreled away on a computer, yes, but not accessible to the web.
“Could it happen here? Well, I don’t want to be overconfident, but we have an additional firewall,” Schedler said.
Coming to the rescue is one of those job-creating, bureaucratic systems so often harped about by critics as profligate government spending.
If a voter wants to, say, change his party affiliation, he can pull up his record and make the changes online. But it doesn’t actually happen until a clerk manually inputs the changes. The procedure ensures that key parts of a voter’s personal information — mother’s maiden name, for instance — are kept unconnected.
The rest — names, addresses, party affiliations, voting frequency, etc. — is available on the web and can be routinely purchased by political campaigns trying to identify supporters. “They don’t have to hack me. They could call me and I’ll sell them the list for $5,000,” Schedler said.
Playing into the news of hacks are the repeated charges by Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, that elections are rigged. “The only way we can lose, in my opinion, I really mean this Pennsylvania, is if cheating goes on,” Trump told an Aug. 12 rally in Altoona, Penn.
Though Schedler, also a Republican, says he understands a politician’s need “to excite the base,” the drumbeat of fraud undermines the credibility of how America chooses its leadership.
Notwithstanding the title of a recently published book about vote buying — “Five Dollars and a Pork Chop Sandwich,” which describes graft in a local Louisiana election — Schedler argues that actual instances of voter fraud are rare.
Nationally, only 2,068 voter fraud prosecutions took place between 2000 and 2012, according to a study by The Carnegie-Knight News21 program, a national multi-university reporting initiative headquartered at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All four of Louisiana’s cases were for fraud' none was for voter impersonation.
Schedler said a fifth case, which happened after the study, shows pretty much what voter fraud is all about.
The 2014 mayoral election of Turkey Creek, a village in Acadiana of about 400 people near Chicot State Park, was decided by four votes, 110-106.
The loser, Heather Cloud, claimed the winner, Bert Campbell, picked up mentally handicapped people at their home, transported them to polling stations and gave them $15 for their vote.
Third Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a re-do in February 2015, which Cloud won 134 to 118.
It’s a nonsensical idea that someone or a few “someones” could come up with enough fraudulent identities to accumulate a meaningful number of votes in a statewide election — 1.99 million Louisiana voters cast ballots in the last presidential race, Schedler said.
The bigger fear is that the results will be hacked and changes made electronically. Most states, like Louisiana, don’t connect voting machines and vote counting to the internet, where hackers could compromise elections.
What Louisiana has is a reputation for dirty dealing that gives credence to the gossip of voter fraud and the real life incidents of hacking.
Louisiana residents have several options for registering to vote. They can fill out a form o…
“It all goes hand in hand with the folklore in Louisiana,” Schedler said.
Email Mark Ballard at firstname.lastname@example.org.