Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler speaks about the dangers of voter anger and apathy. Schedler said the state's and nation's voting systems are "hack-proof," and voters should have no fear that voting results can be affected by hackers. {Photo by Raymond L. Daye}

Schedler warns of voter anger, apathy; says election results cannot be 'hacked'

Louisiana secretary of state speaks to Avoyelles Rotary Club

With the Washington Post story last week that Russian President Valdimir Putin directly ordered interference with last year’s presidential elections, the future of elections may never be the same as voter confidence in the system has been shaken to a greater degree than in the past.

This past November was the “election from Hell,” Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler told the Rotary Club of Avoyelles earlier this year.

The problem was not mechanical malfunctions, voting irregularities or other problems usually associated with a major election. The problem was, in many ways, even worse. It was a problem of attitude.

Schedler told the Rotarians that anger and apathy are twin threats that must be recognized and addressed.

A small but vocal and persistent segment of the population learned the election process was under attack this past November, he said. Those people had heard that the Russians had hacked the election.

Although the Russians had attempted to influence the election, they were unable to actually hack into voting machihes in Louisiana. It would be impossible for that to happen, he said, “because you cannot hack something in cyberspace that is not in cyberspace.”

It might be possible to hack one voting machine, but the machines are not interlinked in a network, he continued. Such interconnection is not even present statewide, much less across the nation.

A U.S. intelligence report released in January found that Russia was “meddling” in the election, such as hacking emails and releasing embarrassing information in those emails. In June, President Donald Trump conceded the Russians were involved.

In Louisiana alone there are 10,000 voting machines in 64 warehouses. To affect an election in the state, each machine would have to be hacked, Schedler said.

“It would take so much time and effort, it would be easier and less expensive to just convince voters to vote the way they wanted,” Schedler joked.

Schedler assured those at the meeting that voter registration lists are secure and hack-proof.

“If you are inputting your information in our online registration system, it might be possible if someone hacked that machine at that moment that he could obtain your information,” Schedler said. “There are firewalls on either side of your information, so he could not access the computer and have access to the entire list.”

Schedler said there are two registered voter lists. One is a public list which includes the voter’s party affiliation, voting district, mailing address and voting history. Politicians and those for or against propositions on a ballot can purchase that list to help them target voters who are likely to vote their way and encourage them to vote early or to go to the polls on election day.

There is a private, secure list that includes personal information that is not released and cannot be hacked, he said.

“In the Presidential election, we dealt with an inordinate amount of calls concerned about conspiracies,” Schedler said. “We spent hours responding to people about these issues. People had so bought into the conspiracy theory that they could not be calmed down or convinced otherwise.”

Schedler said he has noticed a disturbing trend in the nation.

“I have never seen as much anger as there is today,” he said. “We have to take a deep breath in this country.

“There have been a lot of Presidential elections where the candidate I voted for wasn’t elected,” he continued. “I never acted like those who were on the television after this election.”

Schedler said people have to understand that regardless of the current President’s comments, Tweets and policies, “the checks and balances are there in this government” to keep the nation stable and moving forward.

“The world’s not ending,” Schedler said. “The sun will come up in the morning.”

VOTER PARTICIPATION

Schedler said about 86 percent of the state’s eligible voters are registered to vote. That figure is not too bad.

He said the state also does a better job than many of its sister states in removing voters’ names who have moved, died or gone to prison and are no longer eligible to vote in that parish.

Voter participation here and nationwide is at an all-time low. For example, in a recent election earlier this year -- in which there were no Avoyelles elections -- voter turnout ranged from 2 percent in a parish with a local proposition to about 50 percent in a city with a mayoral election.

The least-registered segment of eligible voters are those in the 18-30 group, Schedler said. He did not indicate a reason for that, except to say they may feel that what they want doesn’t matter.

“People may be discouraged with the election system,” Schedler said. “They think their vote doesn’t count. They don’t care what happens and so they don’t vote.”

A possible “bright side” to that statistic is the fact that a recent survey asked potential voters in that age group to rank capitalism, socialism and communism in order of best to worst.

“Two out of three did not put capitalism in first place,” Schedler said. “That is a scary statistic.”

Because of that attitude, the low turnout in that age group is a "bright side."

He said people need to remember that “this country is based on democracy, which is all about us coming together to make decisions.

“America is the best country, the strongest country,” Schedler continued. “If we don’t get a grip on this attitude, we can endanger that status. I am confident it will change.”

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