The 2016 election: Yes, this really happened—Pt. 2

As late as 7:20 PM Eastern Time on election day, November 8, 2016, The New York Times rated Clinton’s chances of winning the presidency at 85%. That was less than four hours before Florida was called for Trump at 10:53 PM—the first surprise of the evening, as we saw in the previous post. North Carolina followed for Trump about twenty minutes later—a surprise that was similarly against all the polling.

A little later in the evening, the results in the three critical Rust Belt states proved even more surprising. Wisconsin finally put Trump over the 270 electoral vote threshold, though Trump had been given virtually no chance in that state—five out of nine polls had Clinton’s chances there at over 90%, and the remaining polls in Wisconsin were at least “lean Democratic.”

Major polls on the morning of the election, ranked from the top according to Clinton’s chances of winning.
‘Swing’ states are marked by an asterisk at the left. (Credit: New York Times)

In all, Trump won a slew of states on November 8 that the polls said should have gone to Clinton. This is the first tip-off that hacking of the voting machines/vote counts may have taken place in favor of Trump.

After the election, the Green Party attempted to get an accurate count (“recount”) in three northern swing states. As is well known, its efforts were stubbornly defeated. In particular, both Republican and Democratic government functionaries resisted all attempts to allow a forensic examination of the voting machines in minority districts. This is the second tip-off that hacking of the voting machines/vote counts may indeed have taken place.

According to experts, the Pennsylvania voting machines are “a disaster.” The majority leave no paper trail and are of a type banned in California as unreliable. The widespread use of easily hackable machines (see below) with no paper trail in this critical swing state requires explanation. It constitutes a third tip-off that machine/vote count hacking may indeed have taken place.

Trump was sure the election was going to be rigged, specifically in Pennsylvania. According to an October 6, 2016 story:

“I’m afraid the election’s going to be rigged,” the GOP nominee has told supporters ever since August. “I hear too many stories about Pennsylvania, certain areas. I hear too many bad stories. And we can’t lose an election because of you know what I’m talking about.”

Trump’s utterly bizarre certainty that the election would be rigged in Pennsylvania is a fourth and decisive tip-off that rigging in Pennsylvania indeed took place, and that Trump apparently knew about it long before the election.

The constellation of above factors strongly suggests that the “rigging” was in the form of vote count manipulation, and possibly of machine hacking. To review:
(1) the machines gave voting results that were very different from numerous polls on the morning of the election
(2) efforts by the Green Party to inspect the machines were stubbornly resisted post-election
(3) the voting machines in Pennsylvania are antiquated, leave no paper trail, are prone to error, and are easily hackable—yet for some reason they were still in use
(4) Trump himself was sure the election was going to be rigged, specifically in Pennsylvania

If Trump had advance knowledge of such rigging, we can be absolutely certain that those with the highest security clearance in the U.S. government (NSA, CIA, FBI) did also. This is the real eye-opener. What I am suggesting here is that those in the highest echelon of the American government knew—well before the election—that there was going to be some funny business with the vote counts/voting machines in Pennsylvania (and likely in other states too). The problem appears to be that the U.S. government could do nothing about it.

Trump’s statements during the campaign spoke generally of election “rigging,” and more specifically of voter fraud (Democrats voting multiple times). Never to my knowledge did Trump speak specifically of vote count manipulation, or of machine hacking. But there is a good explanation for the omission. Raising such a sensitive issue would have been immediately self-defeating. Consider: if Trump brought attention to an impending problem regarding the vote count or the machine tallies, then the authorities would simply have found it necessary to address the accusation and to do something about it. For Trump, that would be counterproductive, because—in order to win—he needed the count to be hacked in his favor!

Who was doing the hacking? Trump’s overtures to Russia, throughout the campaign—and even his direct invitation that Vladimir Putin hack Hillary Clinton’s emails—may suggest that it was the Russians, or Russian operatives, who were ultimately responsible for hacking the American vote counts, either at the machine stage or (more likely?) when the votes were tabulated. But we will see in the next post that Russia does not have this sort of reach into our fractured voting system, and also that the U.S. intelligence agencies deny Russian hacking. (Spoiler alert: It was American operatives who hacked the 2016 election for Trump.)

However, the Russians did hack Clinton’s emails—which was of enormous benefit to Trump’s campaign and includes FBI Director Comey’s last minute reinvigoration of this issue. Incidentally, Comey’s behavior suggests that the FBI and Russians were somehow in cahoots—an absolutely frightening thought!

In any case, Donald Trump was indebted to the Russians—and specifically to Vladimir Putin—for his election victory. This would go far to explain Trump’s extraordinary friendliness towards the Russian regime. It is also likely that the Russians have some dirt on the Donald—blackmail (see next post)

The chess game

Ever since August, 2016, Trump seems to have known there would be some sort of vote count hacking. But he does not appear to have known for sure whom that hacking would benefit. Until the very last minute, this would ultimately be up to Vladimir Putin.

So, Trump hedged his bets. What did he say? That if he lost he would shout from the mountain tops that it was a rigged election. And he would be able to prove it! By revealing contacts, by insisting upon a forensic analysis of machines, etc., Trump would be in a position to publicly expose the hacking, and also to completely discredit the entire American electoral process. Obviously, this latter consideration was very, very significant. It placed the Obama administration in a real bind. After all, if Trump lost, he and the GOP would have the perfect means to delegitimize the entire election (“The Democrats hacked the vote counts against us!”), to claim they had really won, and to pull the entire country into chaos.

With full knowledge of what was going on, Obama could do one thing only to extricate the country from this dangerous threat to our democracy: he had to make sure that no one hacked the vote—not the Russians (who are very good hackers, by the way) nor anyone else. As we will see in the next post, Obama ultimately failed.

Obama was not naive enough to think that voting machines could not be hacked. Already in 2008 the possibility was of concern to him:

Speaking at a campaign stop at Kent State University in Ohio, Senator Obama said elections in the past had been rigged when he was asked by a supporter, “I would just like to know what you can say to reassure us that this election will not be rigged or stolen?”

As the crowd cheered, Obama answered, “Well, I tell you what it helps in Ohio, that we got Democrats in charge of the machines.” The crowd cheered again.

Obama was also not naive enough to think that the Democrats had clean hands. He continued:

“Whenever people are in power, they have this tendency to try to tilt things in their direction. That’s why we’ve got to have, I believe, a voting rights division in the Justice Department that is nonpartisan, and that is serious about investigating cases of voter fraud.”

“That’s why we need paper trails on these new electronic machines so that you actually have something that you can hang on to after you’ve punched that letter—make sure it hasn’t been hacked into,” he added, admitting that even Democrats have “monkeyed around” with election results:

“I want to be honest, it’s not as if it’s just Republicans who have monkeyed around with elections in the past. Sometimes, Democrats have, too.”

In late August, 2016, Obama started to consider special anti-hacking precautions:

Last Monday Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson told the nation’s top election officials that the Obama administration is considering designating certain electoral systems “critical infrastructure” – like banks and the power grid – which have to be protected from cyber-hackers. That would allow Obama to intervene to “secure” the system under Presidential Policy Directive 21 and Executive Order 13636.

Right now, voting policies are set by 9,000 jurisdictions nationwide. This plan would transfer that power from local communities and elected officials to the Obama administration.

Johnson says he’s concerned about electronic voting machines being hacked, possibly by foreign nations like Russia.

In the same article we read that hacking a voting machine is very easy:

Experts agree that electronic voting machines, like all electronic machines, are vulnerable to being rigged. But there’s a problem: The vast majority of them aren’t online.

The only way to control them is to somehow hack each machine manually. That means the would-be vote hackers have to be able to physically place something, like an electronic card, into each individual machine. Then, they can set the election’s outcome at will.

Brian Varner, a technology expert with Symantec Security Response, tested electronic voting machines and procedures and showed CBS News just how easy it is to hack a machine by hooking a small, electronic device to a voting card.

“For $15 and in-depth knowledge of the card, you could hack the vote,” Varner said.

“I can probably put about 400 votes in myself in less than a couple minutes, and the poll workers would be none the wiser,” he added.

Others have shown how a hacker can secretly insert a card into Diebold electronic voting booths, which are still in use in a handful of areas, and pre-program the election results for their chosen candidate.

But to do either of these, the criminals have to get their hands on the voting machines directly – not an easy task with 9,000 state and local officials watching the machines every minute.

The concluding sentence implies that any successful hacking of an election would probably involve domestic collusion—by elements within one major political party or the other. That this election was evidently hacked in favor of Trump, suggests that some elements within the GOP may have facilitated the hacking.

On Oct. 7, the U.S. government formally accused Russia for the first time of a campaign of cyber attacks against Democratic Party organizations to interfere with the election process. As the election neared, Obama was treating Trump’s “rigging” threat with extreme seriousness:

President Barack Obama on Thursday [October 20, 2016] offered a searing condemnation of Donald Trump’s refusal to commit to accepting the results of the November election, declaring that the Republican nominee’s talk warning of a rigged contest is “not a joking matter.”

“This is more than just the usual standard lie,” Obama said forcefully, speaking at a rally for Hillary Clinton in Miami. “Because when you suggest rigging or fraud without a shred of evidence, when last night, at the debate, Trump becomes the first major party nominee in American history to suggest that he will not concede despite losing the vote and then says today that he will accept the results if he wins — that is not a joking matter.”

“I want everybody to pay attention here. That is dangerous,” Obama continued, as supporters in the crowd cried out. “Because when you try to sow the seeds of doubt in people’s minds about the legitimacy of our elections, that undermines our democracy. Then you’re doing the work of our adversaries for them. Because our democracy depends on people knowing that their vote matters, that those who occupy the seats of power were chosen by the people.”

Since he began campaigning for Clinton this summer, Obama has become visibly more incensed by Trump’s candidacy…

The president’s angry, combative tone above suggests to me that, as the election approached, Obama was not certain that America would in fact be able to prevent this election from being hacked.

For Obama, the possibility now loomed of a debacle far, far more serious than even Watergate in the 1970s. For this debacle threatened the peaceful transition of power in the United States. The awesome question of winner and loser—of who would be the next president—now became secondary. Obama was more concerned with the survival of the republic itself. It was no longer a question of Democrat or Republican. It was now a question of America or no America.

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About René Salm

René Salm is the author of two books on New Testament archeology and manages the companion website

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