BY: MIROSLAV TOMOSKI
It’s back! And just in time for Thanksgiving! This election has reared its ugly head from the grave enough times to put Jason Voorhees and Freddy Kruger to such shame they would never return to haunt again.
On Wednesday afternoon a report by New York Magazine suggested that the Clinton campaign was considering a recount in three states. The states in question are Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – where the margin of victory was within a percentage point – and Michigan where after two weeks election officials believe it is still too close to call.
Having won the popular vote by over 2 million, according to independent election monitor the Cook Political Report, Clinton’s supporters have been raising eyebrows and hitting the streets since election night in a strange role reversal with Trump who was once certain that the system was rigged against him.
In a sense both sides are right, since elections in the United States are decided by a population-based point system called the Electoral College, not a total number of votes. The nearly 230-year-old system, in which Trump won more states and therefore more points, seemed to come as a surprise to protesters who have since been demanding reform.
A poll conducted by the Washington Post found that 33% of Clinton supporters do not believe Trump is the legitimate winner. But the numbers and the system – which was designed to prevent populists like Trump from becoming president – says otherwise.
With the final Electoral count at 290 for Trump to 232 for Clinton, Hillary would have to challenge and win in all three states in order to overturn the election.
The process would be akin to a lawsuit that’s sure to give everyone horrible flashbacks of the bureaucratic nightmare that was the Bush v Gore recount of 2000. That year’s recount lasted into the second week of December before the Supreme Court decided it had enough and threw the election to Dubyah.
What’s more, a recount has to be paid for by the challenging candidate before each state’s deadline. The earliest of these deadlines, as reported by local WKOW, is at 5 PM on Friday in Wisconsin where it will cost Clinton $1.1 million. That deadline is followed by Pennsylvania on Monday the 28th and Michigan on Wednesday the 30th.
In addition to consulting with researchers, Clinton is reportedly working with a well-seasoned lawyer named Marc Elias who has won several cases like this in the past. But the White House has said that it doesn’t want a recount after a petition on its official website reached the required number of signatures to warrant a response. (That same website once asked the government to construct a functional Death Star.)
While the Clinton campaign has refused to comment, the Green Party’s Jill Stein crowdfunded more than $2.5 million – more than enough to fund a recount in all three states – on the party’s website Wednesday night.
“The unexpected results of the election and reported anomalies need to be investigated before the 2016 presidential election is certified. We deserve elections we can trust.” Stein said in a statement, citing the allegations of Russian hackers at the DNC as a reason to conduct a recount.
“Clinton received 7 percent fewer votes in counties that relied on electronic-voting machines,” the initial report by New York Magazine stated, “Based on this statistical analysis, Clinton may have been denied as many as 30,000 votes; she lost Wisconsin by 27,000.”
The use of different voting methods across states and even among counties within each state has made for an extremely complicated tabulation process that has often been a target for voter fraud claims.
Professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, J. Alex Halderman, has been encouraging Clinton to call for a recount and was quoted in the original article. But he took to the internet on Wednesday to explain that he never meant to throw reporters into a frenzy on a day when half the country was stuck in Thanksgiving traffic and anticipating a heated debate with their racist uncle.
“That article, which includes somebody else’s description of my views, incorrectly describes the reasons manually checking ballots is an essential security safeguard (and includes some incorrect numbers, to boot). Halderman wrote to correct the record.
He lays out a couple of ways in which hackers could alter the outcome of an election including the use of malware which could lay dormant in voting machines until Election Day, bypassing any precautionary tests.
“A skilled attacker’s work might leave no visible signs,” He writes, “though the country might be surprised when results in several close states were off from pre-election polls.”
Which is exactly the kind of tearful confusion that occurred when most polls predicted a Clinton victory on Election Day. Though many have attributed that polling blunder to a bias in the media and a seriously unhealthy dose of hubris on the part of the Clinton campaign, which planned an elaborate victory party in New York City – complete with a stage shaped like a map of America and a literal glass ceiling.
With extremely close polling numbers, and a lead in the popular vote, many Clinton supporters are now considering the possibility that the Russian hacks they warned of during the Wikileaks scandal might have stolen the election from their candidate.
But others disagree. “I could set one of these machines in the middle of Red Square in Moscow, and the Russians couldn’t hack into it,” a Pennsylvania election official told CNN.
When asked about the likelihood of voter-fraud during the primaries, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, an election-tracking website out of the University of Virginia told the Plaid Zebra that, “the evidence is often pretty thin and usually has elements of ‘sore loser’ in the complaints.”
Even Halderman admits that the weird bout of Cold War nostalgia that’s causing a Red scare among Democrats might be going a bit too far.
“Were this year’s deviations from pre-election polls the results of a cyberattack? Probably not.” He writes, “I believe the most likely explanation is that the polls were systematically wrong, rather than that the election was hacked.”
But he also says that the reason he has been in contact with Clinton is that his own research has shown that the use of voting machines in close run elections could produce a faulty result.
“If my Ph.D. students and I were criminals,” he writes, “I’m sure we could pull it off.”
“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.”
According to Wisconsin’s records, the state does not appear to use the type of machine demonstrated in the video above, but uses optical scan machines similar to Michigan. These machines can also be vulnerable since they would have to be physically inspected which is rare in the absence of a recount. After all, the point of using machines is to create an efficient system which doesn’t require a slower human hand count.
Both Michigan and Pennsylvania return a paper ballot from their electronic devices and require those ballots to be confirmed, but the paper ballots are rarely counted due to out of date machines and the overwhelming process.
Despite the inefficiency, Halderman claims that paper ballots play an essential role in verifying the system, by providing physical proof. “Just as you want the brakes in your car to keep working even if the car’s computer goes haywire, accurate vote counts must remain available even if the machines are malfunctioning or attacked.”
Because much of the technology is in dire need of an update as well as a robust security structure in the age of cyber warfare, it has become far less secure than a simple mark on a piece paper. For this reason, many countries like the UK and Canada still use paper ballots. But these ballots are also a lot less complicated than their American counterparts which look more like a political menu and can include everything from a choice of President to Dog Catcher. As Halderman points out this system makes counting paper ballots extremely difficult and, “no state is planning to actually check the paper.”
That is until Black Friday, when this beast of an election could return to our news feeds and overturn two weeks of trolling and tears.