In Wednesday’s third and final presidential debate, Donald Trump made history by becoming the first major party candidate to refuse to say whether he would honor the election’s outcome if he loses. A day later at a rally in Ohio, he told supporters he would accept “a clear election result” but would reserve his right “to contest or file a legal challenge in the case of a questionable result.” Trump didn’t say what might qualify as a “questionable result.” But he’s made it clear that he already thinks the election is rigged against him. It’s almost universally agreed that is a virtual impossibility. Unfortunately, the electronic voting machine millions of Americans will use to cast their ballots can be rigged, and thanks to outdated technology it will be difficult to prove they weren’t if Trump or his supporter put forth such a claim. Verified Voting, a nonprofit group dedicated to providing information on elections, said eight out of ten Americans will cast their ballot this year on an electronic voting machine that produces some form of hard copy record of their vote. But that leaves over a dozen states in this election cycle using a direct recording electronic (DRE) machine — often a button-based or touchscreen device used for recording vote counts — which don’t support paper audit technology. In several key battleground states, electronic voting machines with paper audit trails are virtually non-existent.
… In the end it may not even matter if the machines are actually compromised, though. Trump has been busy convincing his followers that losing Pennsylvania is all the proof they need that the system is rigged.
Under Pennsylvania law a recount is mandated if a candidate loses by a margin of half-a-percentage point or less. Trump can’t personally request a recount if he loses by a greater margin. (In that case he would have to go to court to challenge the election’s outcome). But his supporters can. All it takes is three voters and $50 to file a petition for a recount in each precinct. With more than 9,000 precincts in the state, it’s hard to imagine he’d leverage the support needed to effectuate a statewide recount, but all it takes is one contested precinct to delay an election’s outcome by weeks.
That’s a prospect that keeps election watchers up at night. “What do we do if, at the end of the election, it comes down to Pennsylvania and there’s a challenge saying, you know, these machines were corrupted?” said Avi Rubin, a computer security expert at Johns Hopkins University, in a recent interview. “We can’t do recounts. We don’t have paper ballots,” said Rubin. “We just have to live with those machines.”