Posted: Oct. 4, 2016


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

This is not a state for Russian hackers.

Common sense is all it takes to figure that out. If anyone but Hillary Clinton wins the presidential election in a state as Democratic as Delaware is, it would be about as believable as those emails from Nigerian princes offering to share a long-lost inheritance.

Besides, hacking is probably not even the biggest threat to mucking with an election in this country. That takes the court system.

Who can forget the howler of the presidential race in 2000, when the popular vote went to Al Gore and the Democrats but the electoral votes went to George Bush and the Republicans, once the Supreme Court had its say after Florida got hung up on hanging chad?

It is worth remembering the election would not have gotten to the justices, if some of Florida's voters had not been stuck with Votomatic machines and their confounding punch-card ballots.

It was an awful system, about the worst example of what bad technology can do to the Republic, at least until the Web site for Obamacare came along.

On the flip side, though, voting machines are the reason Delaware election officials do not fear bad actors from Russia or Donald Trump's mythical 400-pound hacker sitting on a bed somewhere.

"I think we're fine," said Elaine Manlove, the state election commissioner.

This is not to say election officials are not taking the situation seriously. After all, members of Congress are coming from the intelligence committees and saying Russian agents have been poking around state election systems.

The election officials here have participated in consultations with the Department of Homeland Security, but above all, they have confidence in the electronic voting machinery itself.

For one thing, the individual touch-screen voting machines are not connected to the Internet.

For another thing, the votes are captured in three different ways. The voting machine itself records them. So does a paper trail inside each machine. So does an all-important cartridge, which is taken from the machine and transported to a reading device that counts the votes. It is only after the cartridges are read that the votes are posted online.

"We have triple redundancy," Manlove said.

Other states may not have the same trust in their equipment, but it turns out there is some good in that. The vote-counting methodology is such a hodgepodge, not just state by state, but in some places county by county, and sometimes so technologically backwards that it defies hacking.

If only there could be as much reliability in the court system, as Delaware knows only too well. The state found out all about it in the last election in 2014.

It looked like on Election Night that Betty Lou McKenna, the Democratic recorder of deeds in Kent County, had lost the office by two votes to La Mar Gunn, the Republican candidate, who is on the ballot again this year for lieutenant governor.

It brought on a recount conducted by the Board of Canvass, which consisted of two Superior Court judges, and this time it was McKenna who was found to be the winner by two votes. Gunn protested to the Superior Court, where another judge ordered a new recount. This one came out a tie.

Gunn appealed to the state Supreme Court, which threw out the tie on the grounds that one Superior Court judge had no authority to overrule two fellow judges or to order up a new recount. The high court concluded the first recount should stand, so McKenna got a new term.

It should be noted that at no time were the voting machines in question. Their tallies were not disputed. The recounts turned on the reading of a handful of absentee ballots, which voters fill out on paper by hand.

Three layers of judges. Three different determinations. What a mess.

So never mind about Russian hackers. Instead, imagine a race so close between Clinton and Trump that it becomes the 2016 version of Bush, Gore and the hanging chad, except this time with a Supreme Court sitting short-handed with only eight justices after the death of Antonin Scalia.

A high-powered lawyer named Carter Phillips, who has argued scores of cases before the Supreme Court, told the New York Times it would be a "doomsday scenario."

Come to think of it, did anyone check if there was a Russian operative on the West Texas ranch where Scalia died?