Cybersecurity Experts Urge A Vote Recount In Key States

Experts are pushing for a voting recount in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania

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Nov 23, 2016 at 3:49 PM ET

In the days after the surprise election of Donald Trump, disheartened Clinton supporters clung to the obscure hope that the electors — the men and women who make up the Electoral College — would revolt and elect her instead, invoking a farfetched technicality in election law. Now, those insane optimists have another straw to clutch: lawyers and cybersecurity experts have urged the Clinton campaign to request an electoral audit in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania due to the possibility of hacking. 

“There’s a possibility of checking the electoral results against the paper and doing it at a relatively low cost. The problem right now is that no state that has a law that mandates this, which is why we’ve put in the petition to see whether one or more states would be willing to put in emergency regulations to allow the results to be checked.” Philip Stark, a professor of statistics at University of California, Berkeley told Vocativ.

According to CNN, a source said that experts had “told the Clinton campaign they believe there is a questionable trend of Clinton performing worse in counties that relied on electronic voting machines compared to paper ballots and optical scanners.” The election result and the deviations from the polls, which strongly predicted a Clinton win, caused many to further question the integrity of the outcome. According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, 18 percent of voters do not accept the results of this election. 

“We have a situation right now where a majority of voters feel disfranchised because their candidate lost the electoral college, and that might lead the political will to revise some of the laws and regulations around the election integrity so that we kinds of checks we should be doing all the time,” said Stark, who is also a board member of Verified Voting, a voting rights non-profit that started a petition that now has over 160,000 signatures.

Although there is currently no evidence to prove the votes were hacked, given past instances such as the hacks into the email system of the Democratic National Committee during the election, it isn’t impossible. In a co-authored a USA Today op-ed with Ron Rivest, an MIT professor, Stark said 75 percent of the votes cast have a paper trail, including in Michigan and Wisconsin, and a “risk-limiting” audit, which would manually examine a sample from these states, could ensure integrity of the election’s outcome. “You can think of it as an intelligent incremental recount that stops the recount as soon as there is strong evidence that the recount is pointless,” Stark explained. But he sees this as a necessary extra step, rather than something reserved for emergency situations. “I would be happy to get any states to do this, including states that were landslides for one candidate or the other.”

In an article on Medium on Wednesday, J. Alex Haberman, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Michigan, stressed how simple a hack into these computer would have been for someone motivated to execute this and unafraid of the consequences. “We’ve been pointing out for years that voting machines are computers, and they have reprogrammable software, so if attackers can modify that software by infecting the machines with malware, they can cause the machines to give any answer whatsoever. I’ve demonstrated this in the laboratory with real voting machines — in just a few seconds, anyone can install vote-stealing malware on those machines that silently alters the electronic records of every vote.” 

Given the fact that these vulnerabilities have not been addressed before the election day, there’s little reason to think they will be taken into consideration now. Additionally, the petition for audit would have to happen before fast approaching deadlines: Friday in Wisconsin, Monday in Pennsylvania and next Wednesday in Michigan, according to Haberman.

Still, many are hopeful that something will change by December 19, including at least three electors have said they will not cast their vote for Trump, according to CNN, and are determined to convince others to do the same. Even so, there’s also the White House’s concern for a smooth transfer of power and the kind of backlash that would result from a change like this actually taking place.

Though the prospects of an electoral audit in these states are slim, and the possibility of changing the president-elect slimmer, it’s unfortunate to think that the outcome of this election could have come down to hacking or computer errors — as unlikely as that may be.