Gossip about Russia’s alleged plot to sway 2016’s so-called election appears to be the US media’s new default mode, alongside the spasms of presidential Twitter activity & daily bickering of war-horny pundits over which impoverished third-world nation is the biggest threat to the global US empire. The irony is that, even as the commentariat struggle to prove Russian propaganda influenced the results, the news-media itself is guilty of lavishing billions in free publicity on Trump’s campaign in broad daylight, according to a 2017 Harvard study. In reality, however, nobody will ever know whether the US media’s lust for ratings or the ambitions of Vladimir Putin influenced the 2016 election results — or any other recent US election — because nobody ever knew what the results were in the first place…
The Myth of US Election Results
What do unicorns, the results of US elections, & a really good light beer have in common? The correct answer is that none of them have been found and there is no evidence to suggest they exist. Official US elections “results” are posted by a number of websites, including the total electoral votes awarded, however many ballots were counted by each state, as well as the county & precinct-level data if you look hard enough. In states using paper ballots, such as Oregon, we may even be allowed to look at the actual votes — and, in states like Nevada which use certain types of electronic voting, there are ways to be reassured that the voting machines recorded the votes accurately. So far, so good — right?
But this is where things get a bit problematic…
DRE Voting Machines, Paper Trails,
& Coup d’etats by Edgy Middle-School Fascists
Each US state gets to decide how to conduct its elections and all of them currently use voting systems that involve either paper ballots, electronic voting, or a mix of both. For ensuring accurate results, paper ballots are obviously better than electronic voting. When using paper ballots, hand-counted & stored in a secure place, there are only a handful of ways to tamper with the results, none of which are particularly easy. Many states use this method — but many more use electronic or mixed methods. Electronic voting in the US is done with DRE voting machines, which is short for Direct Recording Electronic voting machines. These machines — big surprise — directly record electronic votes to a cartridge, chip, disk, or hard drive.
The Lost Paper Trail to Functional Democracy
Some machines use VVPAT or Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trails. VVPAT is essentially a paper receipt for your vote. Before leaving the voting booth, voters verify the right vote was printed and the VVPAT is kept with the machine so we can check the paper trail to make sure the electronic totals are accurate. If VVPAT is used correctly with a well-designed, open-source voting system, it can be pretty secure & less work-intensive than hand-counting. Without VVPAT or another paper trail, it is virtually impossible to audit the vote totals. 15 states use voting machines without VVPAT.
Most people reasonably assume the manufacturers of DRE machines without VVPAT have taken steps to protect the results from being tampered with — but that assumption is incorrect. Study after study — like this one from Princeton University — shows that pretty much anyone can rig the results of these things with just $10, a trip to Radio-Shack, an 8th grade science education, & a contempt for democracy. The only defense we have is to hope & pray no one finds this YouTube video demonstrating exactly how to rig one of our voting machines:
That’s right. American democracy is so weak that, in certain circumstances, the United States is only 1 edgy middle-school fascist away from full-fledged autocratic rule.
2/5ths of the Results Can Never Be Audited
Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia — these are the 15 states using DRE voting machines without VVPAT. About 93.1 million voting-age US citizens or approximately 37% of the voting-age population lives in these 15 states, controlling 198 electoral votes or nearly 3/4ths of the total votes needed to win the two-party horse-race we call elections.
In the past 50 years, the margin of victory in US presidential elections has been between 0.7% – 23% or, to put it simply, presidential candidates win by getting anywhere between 500,000 – 18 million more votes than their opponent did. And that means 90 million votes is not only enough to control the results of an election but — with even a 50% “turnout” — it is enough to flip the results back & forth several times just for the hell of it.
Russia Can’t Influence Results That Don’t Exist
Last year, about 51.8 million voters seemed to vote in 15 states whose results could easily have been altered or fabricated without leaving a shred of evidence — and neither you, me, the media, nor Putin himself can ever know what influenced the voters or even if they voted. This problem is not unique to 2016 — the number of states with unverifiable results was even higher in 2012 & prior elections. The real problem is that nobody knows whether the past several presidents were even genuinely elected — much less whether their election was influenced by any outside forces! The results are just as faith-based as any religious belief — except, instead of prophets, we are supposed to take the word of bureaucrats & politicians.
Questioning whether or how much Vladimir Putin influenced the results of the 2016 election is therefore exactly as meaningful as asking whether Putin influenced a unicorn’s decision to try a really good light beer in 2016. Even if he did — if none of us will ever get to crack open a cold one with the boys — what difference does it make?