New York Magazine
reported Tuesday that a group of computer scientists and election lawyers are urging Hillary Clinton to demand a recount of election results in three swing states because of the possibility that the results had been manipulated. The report said that the experts weren’t speaking publicly about it yet, but they were lobbying Clinton’s campaign camp.
Now, one of those computer scientists, J. Alex Halderman, Professor of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Michigan and Director of Michigan’s Center for Computer Security & Society, has published his own post on the subject to clarify his position.
Halderman posits that it would be possible for a foreign government to hack electronic voting machines by monitoring which states have close margins and spreading malware into the machines in order to shift percentage points to their desired candidate. Halderman says the malware could be inactive during pre-election tests so as to go unnoticed, do its work on Election Day and then erase itself afterwards, leaving no evidence it was ever there, “though the country might be surprised when results in several close states were off from pre-election polls.”
Halderman cites the hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails earlier this year, along with invasions of Illinois’ and Arizona’s voter registration systems, as evidence of a pattern of attacks on America’s voting system. Halderman also notes that the federal government implicated Russian hackers in all previous cases, and that Russia tried to pull a similar move in Ukraine’s presidential elections in 2014.
Though Halderman doesn’t believe there necessarily was a cyberattack, he does say that “most of the world’s military powers now have sophisticated cyberwarfare capabilities,” and that, “If my Ph.D. students and I were criminals, I’m sure we could pull it off.” Even if there was no deliberate vote manipulation, Halderman believes that the polls could be “systematically wrong,” though neither of “these seemingly unlikely explanations is overwhelmingly more likely than the other.”
70 percent of voters use electronic voting machines that do have paper backups of votes, whether that means a paper ballot is scanned into an electronic machine or the electronic machine prints out a paper backup, and Halderman urges candidates to ask for recounts of these paper systems in states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, where the margins between Clinton and Donald Trump were 0.7 percent, 1.2 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively. Unless candidates request recounts, those paper backups aren’t going to be counted “in a way that would reliably detect that the computer-based outcome was wrong,” because most states only superficially check the backups, while others do no checks at all. Some counties are entirely paperless and would require a more in-depth forensic analysis.
Halderman says that even if nothing is found wrong with the machines, a recount “will help allay doubt and give voters justified confidence that the results are accurate. It will also set a precedent for routinely examining paper ballots, which will provide an important deterrent against cyberattacks on future elections.”
Halderman doesn’t address the numbers reported by New York Magazine that say Clinton could have been denied “as many as 30,000 votes” and that Clinton received seven percent fewer votes in counties that use electronic voting machines instead of physical ballots. If Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are overturned and Clinton wins Michigan (which still hasn’t officially declared a winner due to the results being too close to call), Clinton would win the election. He also doesn’t comment on how much contact he’s had with Clinton’s campaign team, though New York Magazine claims Halderman, along with voting-rights attorney John Bonifaz, had a conference call with Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and campaign general counsel Marc Elias to discuss their findings.
The deadline for a recount, which has to be called for by the candidate and would cost them millions of dollars, according to Halderman, is approaching fast: Wisconsin’s deadline is Friday, Pennsylvania’s is Monday and Michigan’s is next Wednesday. Complicating matters still further, New York Magazine cites a “senior Clinton advisor” who told them that “the White House, focused on a smooth transfer of power, does not want Clinton to challenge the election result.” As of yet, there has been no comment from Clinton or her campaign staff, though Heba Abedin, the sister of one of Clinton’s top aides, Huma Abedin, has posted to Facebook encouraging her followers to call the Department of Justice and ask for an audit of the voting systems.