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"Rigged" election: Clerks weigh in on possibility locally

Donald Trump claims

When Donald Trump claimed “the election is going to be rigged,” it sparked new questions about the possibility of hacking happening locally.

Democratic Clerk Terri Rethlake with St. Joseph County said a rigged election would not happen in the county.

“If numbers look wrong in a precinct, you can tell right away,” said Rethlake. “We’re reconciling numbers every day.”

In St. Joe County, workers tabulate votes, then input into a computer not connected to the internet. Once a 10-day window is up to accept provisional ballots, the final numbers are submitted down state.

The office also tests the voting machines before the election; a process that is open and advertised to the public, according to Rethlake.

“We don’t want anybody to think that nothing is not done with the utmost integrity here in the elections,” said Rethlake.

In Cass County, Michigan, Republican Clerk Monica Kennedy agreed: the likelihood their election could be rigged is slim.

“When the polls close at the end of the night, that’s really where the hard work comes in,” said Kennedy. “The people that work the precincts tie up all the numbers and make sure that every ballot is accounted for.”

In Cass County, results are sealed in a “memory pack” inside a tabulator so it can’t be tampered with. That pack is also sealed for extra protection.

The seal corresponds with a number when the public test was conducted. Once the clerk gets all the materials, and a bi-partisan board also reviews it, the results are considered “sealed” and sent to the state office.

When Donald Trump made those comments, IU South Bend Professor Jamie Smith questioned which parts of the election process Trump was referring to.

“We’re still pretty early in the process,” said Smith. “Is he referring to polling? Is he referring to voter registration?”

Smith said challenging the entire process “is not something you really do.”

Smith provided perspective on the presidential race in 2000 between George W. Bush and Al Gore. In that race, it came down to a couple hundred votes in specific counties in Florida.

Smith said that was an example of a “targeted approach” to challenging the system.

“Rather than just looking at broad claims about maybe fraud or the election being ‘rigged,’ you might look at how do these things work and how could an election be influenced by people who are participating,” said Smith. “How can we prevent these things from happening so we don’t have to question election results.”

At the national level, Symantec Security Response in Los Angeles said election results could still be tampered with because top-notch security is expensive. According to the National Association of Secretaries of State, the lack of funds keeps some counties and precincts from updating systems.

While our local systems aren’t connected to the internet, some experts say hackers are getting more creative.

“For $15 and in-depth knowledge of the card, you could hack the vote,” said Brian Varner, Researcher with Symantic Security Response.

Varner said the affordable device can be inserted into the voting machine enabling a voter to vote again. He said it electronic machines create a “huge potential” for hacking.

Experts also say to pull off a "rigged" election, it would require several counties to work in coordination with one another.

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