It would be very, very hard for Russia to hack the US vote, as The Outline reported last week, due to the way the US voting system works. However, a respected voice in computer science and information security has given new weight to the push for examining the voting results, hackers or not.
J. Alex Halderman is the director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Computer Security and Society and the author of an online course on election technology. Halderman has been lobbying the Hillary Clinton campaign behind the scenes to ask for a recount of the vote, as first reported by New York magazine’s Gabriel Sherman. The professor wrote a post on Medium to clarify his views.
"Were this year’s deviations from pre-election polls the results of a cyberattack? Probably not," he wrote. “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.”
Halderman is calling on Clinton to petition for a recount in key states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. That may end up being a bigger ask than an audit, which is what organizers including the nonprofit Verified Voting have been pushing for.
Again, Halderman has no evidence that the vote was tampered with, which he acknowledges. He also repeats the erroneous claim that federal agencies publicly said that senior officials in Russia commissioned attacks on voter registration databases in Arizona and Illinois. In October, federal agencies attributed the Democratic National Committee email hack to Russia, but they specifically said they could not attribute the state hacks. Claims to the contrary seem to have spread due to anonymous sourcing and the conflation of Russian hackers with Russian state-sponsored hackers.
“It’s just ignorance. It’s fear and ignorance that’s fueling that.”
Unfortunately, the Russia-hacked-us meme is spreading fast on social media and among disaffected Clinton voters. "It’s just ignorance," said the cybersecurity consultant Jeffrey Carr. “It’s fear and ignorance that’s fueling that.”
The urgency comes from deadlines for recount petitions, which start kicking in on Friday in Wisconsin, Monday in Pennsylvania, and the following Wednesday in Michigan.
There is disagreement about how likely it is that the Russian government interfered with election results. There is little disagreement, however, that our voting system could be more robust — namely, by requiring paper ballot backups for electronic voting and mandating that results be audited, as they already are in some states including California.
Despite the 150,000 signatures collected on a Change.org petition, what happens next is really the Clinton team’s decision. We’ll know soon.