A flurry of reports has raised questions over whether electronic voting systems were hacked during this month’s election, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s campaign has raised more than $5 million with the aim of double-checking the vote in three key states.
It all started with a report published by New York magazine on Tuesday. It said that a group of lawyers and computer scientists, including the University of Michigan’s J. Alex Halderman, was calling for a closer look at ballots from Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Those states narrowly went for President-elect Donald Trump over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. The group noted that counties in Wisconsin with electronic-voting systems showed Clinton receiving a lower proportion of votes than she did in counties that used optical scanners and paper ballots.
The implication was that hackers, perhaps based in Russia, may have tampered with the e-voting machines. However, the magazine said the group had no proof of such interference; rather, it was reportedly calling upon the Clinton team to press for a recount or an audit.
The Clinton campaign hasn’t responded publicly, but the push for a recount snowballed nevertheless.
In an article published on the Medium website, Halderman said he and other experts are indeed seeking an official review of the election results from closely contested swing states, on the grounds that the results were at odds with pre-election polling. Here’s how Halderman explained it:
“Were this year’s deviations from pre-election polls the results of a cyberattack? Probably not. I believe the most likely explanation is that the polls were systematically wrong, rather than that the election was hacked. But I don’t believe that either one of these seemingly unlikely explanations is overwhelmingly more likely than the other. The only way to know whether a cyberattack changed the result is to closely examine the available physical evidence — paper ballots and voting equipment in critical states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, nobody is ever going to examine that evidence unless candidates in those states act now, in the next several days, to petition for recounts.“
The individual states are responsible for recounts, in which votes are re-tallied; as well as for audits, in which returns from randomly selected sample precincts are checked for accuracy.
The margin of victory, though close, isn’t close enough to justify an automatic recount in Wisconsin, Michigan or Pennsylvania. That means candidates would have to seek a recount and potentially bear the cost, which runs into millions of dollars.
Green Party candidate Jill Stein’s presidential campaign said it would demand recounts in the three states if it can raise enough money to pay for them. Today the Stein campaign said it has raised $5 million in contributions and is filing an affidavit for a recount in Wisconsin, the first of the three states.
George Martin, a member of the Wisconsin Green Party’s coordinating council, said the filing fees alone are expected to be $1.1 million. “We are prepared to deliver certified checks, anytime they ask for it, to cover that,” he said during a news conference.
Wisconsin election officials confirmed that petitions for a recount were received before today’s 5 p.m. CT (3 p.m. PT) deadline.
Martin said the fees for Pennsylvania and Michigan would tally up to another million dollars or more, and there will be further legal expenses ahead. Any leftover money would go toward training future candidates, Martin said.
Some social-media users (including Heba Abedin, the sister of Clinton aide Huma Abedin) passed along calls for the U.S. Department of Justice to conduct its own audit. But in a statement obtained by The Washington Post, the Justice Department said a decision to investigate would be based “solely on the facts and evidence as they relate to the federal statues the department enforces” — and not on a telephone call-in campaign.
Complicating the matter were reports that the reported presidential vote totals for Wisconsin’s Outagamie County exceeded the total number of voters who cast ballots there.
That mystery was quickly cleared up: County officials said that ballot counters added up the votes incorrectly when reporting them on Election Night; but that the errors were corrected in the official tally.
Snopes.com, a well-known reality-checker, traced the genesis of the Justice Department campaign as well as the Outagamie County controversy. And there are plenty more caveats about the whole #AuditTheVote uproar. Here’s a sampling from Twitter:
The election probably wasn't hacked. But Clinton should request recounts just in case. https://t.co/gFP1SwLLhp
— Vox (@voxdotcom) November 23, 2016
— Rob Arthur (@No_Little_Plans) November 23, 2016
To follow: some *very* quick analysis which suggests the claim here of rigged results in Wisconsin is probably BS: https://t.co/SYlE76bnmQ
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) November 23, 2016
Don't be fooled by @DrJillStein's attempt to raise $ for a recount. If HRC seeks one, it will happen. Stein just seeking fools again.
— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) November 23, 2016
Seriously considering whether this New York Magazine article was planted as a giant field experiment to document liberal motivated reasoning
— Brendan Nyhan (@BrendanNyhan) November 23, 2016
This report, originally published on Nov. 23, has been revised with updates about the Stein campaign’s fundraising effort and its plans for seeking a recount.