opinion

Here comes more on the election that'll never end

John Baer, STAFF COLUMNIST

Updated: Wednesday, September 27, 2017, 6:50 AM

Republican Donald Trump looms over Democrat Hillary Clinton during the second presidential debate.

Oh, brother.

Just as Hillary Clinton starts a national tour pushing her post-election book, What Happened, come headlines that Russia last year hacked electoral systems in 21 states, including Pennsylvania.

You know what that means.

No matter the assertions that there’s “no evidence” votes were altered or the outcome affected, there’ll be talk that, see, Russia, with or without collusion, stole the election for Donald Trump.

That’s because the far left needs to balance far-right claims that Trump, due to “massive” voter fraud, won the popular vote.

(He lost it by 2.8 million but won the White House through the Electoral College, as per our Constitution.)

Yet here we go again — the election that’ll never end.

Trump’s Commission on Electoral Integrity continues looking for voter fraud because, as its chairman, Vice President Pence, said, “We can’t take for granted the integrity of the vote.”

That’s great.

And Pennsylvania just offered the commission red meat.

Seems PennDot likes voting so much, it’s been registering any and all who walk in to get or renew a driver’s license, including noncitizens, who can’t legally vote. Couple hundred noncitizens registered in Philly. Who knows how many statewide, or how many actually voted? The state Department of State says a review’s in progress.

Comforting, no?

Speaking of which, in case you’re near a PennDot office, September is National Voter Registration Month.

None of this – Russian hacks, the fraud commission, PennDot’s patriotism – is likely to enhance public interest or basic faith in the electoral process, especially in a state and nation where 40 percent of the voting age population didn’t bother to vote last year.

What is it they say? People get the government they deserve?

The problem’s exacerbated in a “fake news” era with a factually challenged president, and by the sad truth that too few citizens read past headlines and/or tweets, and are more than willing to base beliefs on whatever few words those convey.

“Headlines can be troublesome,” says Stephen Reed of the National Association of Secretaries of State, America’s oldest nonpartisan organization of public officials, founded in 1904.

Yet the association’s statement on the Russian hacks is comforting. It says info from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and targeted states shows no evidence that “the election, including tallying of results, was impacted in any way.”

Hackers scanned systems searching ways in but none were found, the statement says.

So this hacking/scanning thing could fall into the category of “massive” fraud, meaning there’s much less there than meets the eye.

But.

It’s not comforting that our state’s top election official, Secretary of State Pedro Cortez, was surprised by news of hacks, by how few details Homeland Security provided, and by how long it took to notify affected states.

When I ask Reed about delayed notification, he says, “It’s still sort of a mystery.”

As is much of this stuff.

For example, Bloomberg News reported in June on a broader hack, 39 states, including a breach of election software in Illinois. And the Wisconsin State Journal on Tuesday reported that Wisconsin election systems were not hacked, despite federal claims the state was among the 21 named last week.

So there’s just enough that’s unexplained, just enough that’s questionable, at the state level, at the federal level, to keep conspiracy theorists happy and chatty.

How long can this go on?

I don’t know. Maybe Clinton’s book tour can help clear it up. So far, 15 cities in the United States and Canada are scheduled. She’s to be at Philly’s Kimmel Center Nov. 30. According to the center’s website, front-row $650 tickets are “currently unavailable.” But lower-priced tickets are listed.

Maybe Trump’ll show. To heckle. Or stalk. Or gloat. Maybe all this is what politics has become.

John Baer, STAFF COLUMNIST

Read full story: Here comes more on the election that'll never end