People Urging a Vote Recount in Pa. “In Denial,” Says Local Election Attorney

A group of experts has reportedly come forward with evidence that the election might have been manipulated. But are their claims warranted?

Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

Computer scientists and election lawyers are asking the Hillary Clinton campaign to recount election votes in three states, including Pennsylvania, New York Magazine reported last night.

The internet has erupted since then. Here’s why.

The group reportedly includes John Bonifaz, an attorney specializing in Constitutional law and voting rights, and J. Alex Halderman, director of the University of Michigan Center for Computer Security and Society. Until the article, they said little to reporters but had allegedly been in communication with the Clinton campaign, including chairman John Podesta and campaign general counsel Marc Elias, a source told New York Magazine.

They’re arguing that evidence makes a case for possible hacking or manipulation of poll results in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, particularly regarding electronic-voting machines, according to the magazine. In Wisconsin, Clinton received 7 percent fewer votes in counties that used electronic-voting machines compared to those that utilized paper ballots or optical scanners. That could have costed Clinton as many as 30,000 votes, based on statistical analysis, and she lost Wisconsin by 27,000, according to the magazine.

This discrepancy warrants an independent review of the election, the group argues, though they have not found specific proof of manipulation or hacking.

From New York Magazine:

“According to current tallies, Trump has won 290 Electoral College votes to Clinton’s 232, with Michigan’s 16 votes not apportioned because the race there is still too close to call. It would take overturning the results in both Wisconsin (10 Electoral College votes) and Pennsylvania (20 votes), in addition to winning Michigan’s 16, for Clinton to win the Electoral College. There is also the complicating factor of ‘faithless electors,’ or members of the Electoral College who do not vote according to the popular vote in their states. At least six electoral voters have said they would not vote for Trump, despite the fact that he won their states.”

It remains to be seen whether or not Clinton will call for a recount, but it’s probably unlikely. All three states would’ve had to experience major gimmicks to change the Electoral College outcome, and the recount would require a forensic audit of voting machines. Plus, Clinton would have to file for a recount soon — very soon. The deadline to request a recount in all three states is looming.

Are the experts mentioned in the magazine who urging for a recount acting in the same vein of paranoia as Trump and his supporters when they called for poll-watching that could have prompted voter intimidation and cried out against supposed voter fraud in places like PhiladelphiaVox’s Andrew Prokop writes that it’s common for a candidate’s supporters to ponder whether or not the election was “stolen” following their candidate’s loss — and Trump himself had suggested that he might’ve challenged the election results had he lost. And the fact that Hillary Clinton’s popular vote margin over Trump has exceeded 2 million is surely making many people frustrated.

Some are coming out in opposition to the claims. To start, Halderman himself (a member of the group mentioned in NY Magazine) has attempted to straighten things out since the story has received some backlash.

Halderman wrote a piece on Medium detailing some ways in which a foreign government — or some other entity — might change the outcome of a presidential election, via malware or other cyberattacks, which, he said, have been attempted before, and “most of the world’s military powers now have sophisticated cyberwarfare capabilities.”

Still, “Were this year’s deviations from pre-election polls the results of a cyberattack? Probably not,” he writes. More from Halderman:

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.

Halderman’s article was a response to skepticism from some, like statistician Nate Silver, founder of FiveThirtyEight. Silver didn’t foresee Trump’s win, but he did place Trump a lot closer to Clinton than many pollsters did.

Like Silver, Prokop argues that it’s possible that electronic-voting machines were more prevalent in counties that were already likely to support Trump, and not just Wisconsin, he writes, but the entire Midwest shifted significantly toward Trump this election. Iowa and Minnesota, which border Wisconsin, showed similar results — and they also use paper ballots, Prokop writes. Plus, Silver argued that Michigan also only uses paper ballots, so the argument that the group reportedly used regarding Wisconsin doesn’t ring true there.

On top of that, Democratic election law attorney Adam Bonin said that those who are asking for a vote recount just might not be paying enough attention.

Election Day returns are unofficial counts. The actual counting of votes started three days after the election, and it’s “a rigorous and public process,” Bonin said, which people can observe with their own eyes at their county’s Board of Elections. “Every machine tape is looked at, every paper ballot is examined — and if there is any ambiguity, any discrepancies, that gets looked at, and that gets corrected,” Bonin said. “It is usually very boring process.”

Bonin believes many people are just looking for a path that doesn’t result in Trump as president. But more people would have faith in the process if they actually watched it, he said.

“If there were any real question, I and every Democratic election law attorney in the state would be convening teams to go to every county and every table in the commonwealth to find out what happened here,” Bonin said.

Follow @ClaireSasko on Twitter.