On the national stage, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has said if he loses the election it must be rigged.
This sentiment has even reached Bell County.
Tuesday evening, Laura Pressley, a failed Austin City Council candidate, talked to the Central Texas Tea Party about how she is a victim of alleged electronic voting fraud.
So is the election rigged?
“Here’s what I would like even better: How is it going to be rigged?” asked Bell County Elections Administrator Shawn Snyder. “The Democrats are saying the Russians are going to rig it for Trump. All I can attest to is how we do it in Bell County.”
When you go to vote during early voting, which begins today and runs through Nov. 4, or show up on Election Day, Nov. 8, your ballot will be on paper.
With traditional paper ballots, the county is able to have an auditing trail, “so if a recount demands it we can go back and physically recount the ballots by hand as needed, which we have been able the last two times,” Snyder said.
When it’s time to count the ballots, the votes will go through one of six counting machines, Snyder said. Bell County has rented a total of eight ballot counting machines, two of which will serve as backups, from Elections Systems and Software.
ES&S is one of two certified election equipment vendors in Texas. The other vendor is Hart Intercivic. Both are certified by the Texas secretary of state’s office to provide election software and hardware to counties.
Rigging the election in Bell County would be very difficult, the election administrator says.
“I don’t know how you would unless somebody were to steal equipment — without me knowing — reprogram it and put it back without me knowing,” Snyder said.
Bell County’s election equipment is not plugged into the internet so hacking that way is impossible, Snyder said.
“They’re only plugged into the wall for power,” the elections administrator said. “They’re not even on Bell County’s private servers.”
The only way you would be able to hack the election, Snyder said, would be to physically go up to the machine. “Not only would the workers have to be compliant because every port is locked behind a panel, but you’d have to break into it. You’d have to already know proprietary systems by ES&S. You’d have to do all of that without a judge seeing you.”
It simply just cannot be done, Snyder said.
“(The judges) don’t upload (the results) somewhere. They are physically carrying it (memory cards from tabulated machines) to me. It’s the same way for early voting.”
Paper ballots confirm vote totals
The topic of rigging an election popped up during a workshop for the Bell County Commissioners Court last week. Commissioner Tim Brown jokingly asked Snyder, “So, you got it all rigged?”
The elections administrator said no and proceeded to detail the progress the county has made in preparation for early voting and Election Day.
Later during the workshop, County Judge Jon Burrows brought up the Central Texas Tea Party’s event with Pressley where she discussed at length how an election was stolen from her.
“That’s why I want to make sure Shawn is out ahead of that,” Brown said before Snyder discussed the Tea Party’s event.
Snyder heard about Pressley and her traveling voter fraud presentation prior to the event.
“Basically, she’s saying every election official is corrupt ... and that you can game the system easily,” Snyder said. “We’re paper.”
“And with paper ballots you can’t really change those either,” Commissioner Richard Cortese quickly added.
Snyder told the commissioners — and the Telegram in an interview Wednesday — that he has seen only one video of a person attempting to rig an election. In the video, the hacker is handed a card from a county clerk and it takes him three weeks to program it so he could change the elections results, Snyder said.
rhetoric fuels election rigging idea
There is only one source, at least on the national level, fueling the rhetoric about rigging the election: Trump.
During the final presidential debate, Trump said he will keep the country in suspense on whether he will concede if he loses. David Holcomb, professor of political science at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, said Trump’s comments are unprecedented.
Holcomb said this stems from two characteristics of Trump: being a protest candidate and his personality.
Trump’s candidacy is about being against the establishment of the GOP and, to an extent, of the entire political system. Trump’s bluntness and policies speak to his supporters who feel like their needs have been ignored by the government, Holcomb said.
“He’s just shooting from the hip,” Holcomb said of Trump’s personality. “He likes to throw these bombshells to further stir the pot.”
Trump’s rhetoric is dangerous to the democratic process, Holcomb said. While there has been some voter fraud across the nation, it is not widespread as Trump is suggesting, Holcomb added.
National analysis showed little fraud
An analysis from News21, an investigative journalism project based at Arizona State University, showed little evidence that voter fraud is widespread. Reporters analyzed 2,068 alleged election-fraud cases in 50 states from 2000 to 2012 and found only 10 cases of voter impersonation.
During that time period, Texas had 104 cases of alleged election fraud, News21 reported. A total of 35,829,114 Texans cast their ballots in November general elections from 2000 to 2012.
‘Everything has a backup trail’
While the presidential election is a national election, elections are run by states — most of which are under Republican leadership — so laws vary.
People’s identities are double, even triple checked with the Texas secretary of state, Snyder said. And the equipment is tested.
“We test all of our equipment multiple times before it ever goes and sees the light on the day of the election,” Snyder said.
The counting machines go through two types of tests. One is from the manufacturer. ES&S sends the county a test deck of ballots that contains every race. The decks have a set number of votes for the candidates, and it includes over votes, under votes and blank ballots. The counting machines will run through the test deck and Snyder checks to see if the results match the report ES&S sent him.
The other test is similar. A person who works for the county fills out blank ballots and creates a report with how many votes he filled out.
“At the end the test deck he makes should match his report because he knows how many votes each person should have,” Snyder said. “If any of those don’t match that’s when we know we have a programming error or we see if we made an error with the programming key.”
Snyder said he would know immediately if there was something wrong with the counting machines.
“Above everything else my elections need to be auditable and they need to be reliable and as accurate as I can make them,” he said.
Snyder has some advice for people who say they can rig an election.
“If you can game the system I know an election company that will give you six figures a year to show them how you did it,” Snyder said.
“We have nothing to worry about.”