Could Oregon's election be 'rigged'?

SALEM, Ore. -- This election cycle has seen Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump make unprecedented claims that the election is “rigged” by the media or by people working for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Trump has claimed that deceased Democrats will have ballots cast in their name. That polls are rigged. That undocumented immigrants will vote. Trump has even said he will only accept the results of the election if he wins.

The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary - but also at many polling places - SAD

 
 

Trump’s claims are unsubstantiated, but elections officials worry they may prompt some voters to sit out the election and others to monitor polling places for voter fraud, raising concerns of intimidation among Democrats.

So, we asked: Could a rigged election actually happen?

In Oregon, at least, tampering with an election is essentially impossible, Oregon Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins said in an interview.

Atkins also sent a letter to state lawmakers assuring them that Oregon's election systems are secure. She said she has the "utmost confidence" in the systems, and that rigging the election would be "virtually impossible."

She detailed a number of safeguards designed to make voters the only ones deciding Oregon elections:

State elections are run county-by-county

Oregon's elections are managed by county clerks, who are locally elected or appointed. They're responsible for upholding state election law and train their staff and volunteers in how to properly count ballots.

Atkins said the county-by-county system of running elections is best because it makes tampering with results even harder.

"It's not centrally run in a way that would be easy to attack," she said. "Local control is a really important thing."

Ballots are secured

Oregon ballots are kept secured by county clerks and their staff. Ballot drop boxes are locked, and when ballots are received in the mail they're also kept in a locked location.

Atkins said the people who open ballots are different than the ones who verify them, adding another layer of security. Counties also verify that the number of ballots received by the clerk is the same number that get counted.

Vote-counting machines aren’t online

The machines that tally Oregon ballots are not connected to the internet, Atkins said, which protects them from hacking.

She said the vote counts are taken from the tallying machines by CD-ROM or thumb drive to a computer and then the results are uploaded and put online.

Because Oregon is a vote-by-mail state and votes aren't cast through machines at polling places, the vote itself is safe from hacks.

Suspicious ballots aren’t counted

Every Oregon ballot must be signed by the voter to be counted in the election. If the signature on the ballot doesn't match the signature on record with the county clerk, the ballot isn't counted towards the election, Atkins said.

She said signature verification is a "key feature" of Oregon's election security system, and that election staff and volunteers are trained in forensic analysis of signatures.

If a signature doesn't match the one on record, election workers will contact the voter and try to resolve the mismatch. Atkins said the problem is often that signed ballot envelopes are mixed up between spouses, or someone will think that it's OK to sign for their spouse. It's not, and when it happens, those voters are told the rules, Atkins said.

Voter fraud is almost nonexistent

Atkins said voter fraud isn't a problem in Oregon.

"It's really a very minor number," she said, maybe 20 ballots per election.

She said elections officials make sure that voters aren't registered in two states, and when they are they make sure the voter didn't cast ballots in Oregon and another state.

To register to vote in Oregon, people must submit their Social Security number or Oregon driver's license number. People must prove citizenship to get a driver's license.

Atkins said the Rajneeshee commune, which popped up in Central Oregon in the 1980s, helped elections officials tighten the rules on voter fraud. At that time, there was an effort by the commune to register voters en mass, which may have pushed the boundaries of election laws.

Election results are always audited

The results of elections in Oregon aren't official until 20 days after the end of voting, when an audit of the election is completed and the results certified by the secretary of state.

Atkins said every ballot is retained by county clerk offices and a hand count is done in sample counties and precincts to make sure the results are accurate. The audit is done to make sure that the ballot counting machines were working correctly.

Bonus safeguard: Federal vote protection 

Atkins said the federal Department of Homeland Security offered to do a "hygiene scan" of Oregon's online voter registration system to check for tampering. The scan was completed, and it showed that the state was taking the right steps to prevent a hack, Atkins said.

She added that a sudden addition of hundreds or thousands of voters to registration rolls would not go unnoticed by county clerks, who would make sure those new voters were real.

Bill Williams, U.S. attorney for the District of Oregon, also appointed a local election officer to oversee complaints of election fraud and abuse. That officer, Assistant U.S. Attorney Adrian Brown, will monitor for interference, discrimination and fraud, Williams said in a statement.

Send questions, comments or news tips to gfriedman2@statesmanjournal.com or 503-399-6653. Follow on Twitter @GordonRFriedman.


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