In case you missed it in PennLive over the weekend, below is Triad Partner Tony May's Sunday column on Donald Trump, poll watching and the reliability of our voting machines.
By Tony May
Maybe it's a sign that Donald Trump knows he's going to lose the election; maybe it's just fear-mongering to rile up and turn out his base vote, but he's now claimed that the only way he will lose on November 8 is if the other side cheats.
He's calling on his red ball-capped army to patrol the polls to keep things honest.
More likely, Trump's own ego probably prevents him from believing that anyone before him has had a good idea so he must be the first to have dreamed up the "Trump Election Observer" sign up page now on his official website.
As Trump told rally-goers at a recent event in Altoona:
"The only way we can lose, in my opinion — and I really mean this, Pennsylvania — is if cheating goes on.... And we have to call up law enforcement. And we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching ... The only way they can beat it in my opinion — and I mean this 100 percent — if in certain sections of the state they cheat, OK? So I hope you people can sort of not just vote on the 8th, go around and look and watch other polling places and make sure that it's 100 percent fine ..."
Pennsylvania election law long ago institutionalized the concept of poll watchers from both political parties and for each candidate to have the legal right to be present during the entire polling process to help ensure ballot security.
Under Pennsylvania law, each political party is entitled to appoint three watchers per precinct and each candidate, two. This is in addition to the majority and minority inspectors of elections elected by precinct voters.
These folks are all part of a network of checks and balances put into place and refined over more than a century to help raise voter confidence about the sanctity of the secret ballot.
The system has come under increasing challenge in recent years as the Republican Party has tried to raise concerns about voter fraud through allegation and innuendo but with little tangible evidence in the form of prosecutions.
There's a small army of people of all political parties authorzed to be in each polling place to watch out for illegal voting practices and yet – after each election – there is no rush to document widespread (or even sporadic) abuses.
There's a paper trail established as to who among those who have registered to vote has actually turned up at the polls and voted.
If there were widespread evidence – or even suspicion – of people impersonating actual registered voters they haven't been sought out after the fact and prosecuted.
Now similar concerns are being raised about the security of computer-based voting machines.
University-based computer experts, who seem to take abnormal satisfaction in proving that virtually any computer network and system can be hacked, have identified areas of vulnerability in several popular electronic voting machines now in use around the country.
Some machines are more vulnerable than others, especially those that do not include a "paper trail" or other auditable and tangible record per transaction per machine.
But up 'til now there's no record of allegations of widespread machine or system tampering or other malicious intent in more than a decade's experience with electronic machines.
The debacle of the "hanging chads" on punch card machines in the great, contested presidential election in Florida between George W. Bush and Al Gore was essentially the breakdown of a mechanical technology melted to an electronic tabulation system, not a computer breakdown or a hack.
There is no assertion – even by the laboratory hackers of individual machines – that enough votes could be stolen, undetected, by a small group of individuals generating a sufficient result to change the outcome of a statewide much less a national election.
Pedro Cortes, Pennsylvania Secretary of State, stresses that elections officials are attuned to operational anomalies that would indicate system tampering. A hack would be discovered almost immediately.
Some of the security against effective hacking is a function of complexity and multiplicity of systems.
Different manufacturers, different hardware, different software and different linkups between the 67 counties and the state make a widespread hack almost impossible because it would involve a conspiracy of dozens if not hundreds of people.
It's not hard to believe that somewhere, sometime, some voting machines are in a location where security can be penetrated. But with thousands and precincts with multiple machines there is a kind of security that is inherent with dispersion and diffusion.
That doesn't mean that someday, somewhere, a widespread hack with outcome-changing results won't occur. After all, bad actors fixed the Pennsylvania Lottery – once. But the hack involved the mechanics of the drawing – by weighting the ping pong balls – not the computers. And they were caught and prosecuted.
Which brings us back to D.J. Trump, who also said in Altoona: "And we have to have the sheriffs and the police chiefs and everybody watching."
Again, Pennsylvania law says differently.
Every Pennsylvania fifth grader knows in the Keystone State that sheriffs are officers of the court, not general police officers. And PA law takes a dim view of allowing police in the polling place because of the potential for intimidation:
"In no event may any police officer unlawfully use or practice any intimidation, threats, force or violence nor, in any manner, unduly influence or overawe any elector or prevent him from voting or restrain his freedom of choice."(Pennsylvania Title 25, Section 3047)
A final note to Trump campaign shepherds: Your institutional disarray is legendary.
Since you haven't gotten around to fleshing out the actual poll-watcher plan for November, you might check the Obama website. They still have their Poll Watcher Manual for download there.
It's pretty thorough.