In an election one side claims is “rigged” as the other was apparently targeted by Russian hackers and Wikileaks, voters may be concerned that some entity will alter the results on Nov. 8. It’s possible, according to some experts, although the likelihood of a significant attack on ballot boxes is exceedingly low. “Everything is hackable,” said Jeremy Epstein, a senior computer scientist at SRI International, a nonprofit California-based think tank. “Everything could have bugs in it.” Can you rig a U.S. presidential election? Experts say it’s basically impossible. On one hand, the U.S. election system is hard to sabotage. Anyone trying to swing the electoral college would have to meddle with voting machines in jurisdictions from Alaska to Maine — or at least about a dozen swing states. “You’d have to be pretty good at microtargeting,” said Jamil N. Jaffer, director of the Homeland and National Security Law Program at George Mason University. “To have an impact, you would have to know where it’s going to be close.” And different voting technology means different weaknesses. The District, Maryland and many counties in Virginia use paper ballots — a gold standard for election-watchers. These ballots are scanned and counted electronically, leaving behind a hard copy of each voter’s preferences. “It seems old-school, but if you have good security practices and a good ballot chain of custody . . . it’s more indelible than bits and bytes in the ether,” said Pamela Smith, president of the nonpartisan Verified Voting, a nonprofit that works for fair elections.
… David Dill, a professor of computer science at Stanford University and the founder of Verified Voting, pointed to registration system hacks in Arizona and Illinois, saying such attacks were his biggest concern. “If people are able to modify voter registration records, it could cause serious problems,” he said. “It could cause chaos when someone shows up to vote.”
The outcome some election experts fear most is the possibility that excessive worry about a hacked election will dissuade people from voting. “One way to be sure your vote isn’t counted is not to show up,” Smith said. “We don’t want voters to be terrified of voting.”