According to a piece on NYMag published earlier in the week, a group of computer scientists and election lawyers believe they’ve found evidence that the vote count in the 2016 US election may have been manipulated by outside influences.
New York Magazine reported that the group, which includes voting-rights attorney John Bonifaz and J. Alex Halderman, the director of the University of Michigan Center for Computer Security and Society, had identified counties in swing states including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michicgan that appear to have anomalously high votes for Trump. Each of these counties were serviced by electronic voting machines rather than paper ballots.
Since then, the story has been watered down somewhat. There’s no real evidence of any hacking, say members of this group. Not yet anyway. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. The will, and the means, are certainly there.
The thinking goes that there’s a chance the Russians or other outside hackers may have found a way to alter the vote tallies. Sounds like a James Bond movie? Not at all. Halderman and his colleagues have been saying for years that electronic voting machines are easily hackable, not just by Russians but by any number of technologically sophisticated governments. And the Russians have form in this area: in 2014 malware was found in voting machines in Ukraine that was traced back to Russia, plus the U.S’s security agencies have insisted that the Democratic National Committee was hacked by Russia during the election cycle.
Halderman has stressed that at this time there was no physical evidence of a cyber attack against the voting systems of the US election. But he thinks there needs to be a recount just in case. "The only way to know whether a cyber attack changed the result is to closely examine the available physical evidence," he wrote in a follow up piece on Medium. He also says a recount is critical to ward off any future cyber attacks.
The reflexive response from Democrats and other Trump sceptics is to approach the news with reason and caution. Because that’s what Democrats do. Andrew Prokop at Vox urged readers to be “very sceptical of stolen election claims”. Data expert Nate Silver says the ‘anomalies’ don’t stack up after you control for race and education in the counties that are supposedly questionable. Dem don’t want to be lumped into the same “basket of deplorables” as angry, vengeful Republicans, who we know would be screaming from the rooftops if the situation were reversed. They’re reluctant to look like sore losers or to grab onto flimsy evidence to support their beliefs.
But this isn’t a time for politeness, or sticking faithfully to convention. Yes, it would be a huge disruption and cost to recount the votes. No, there may not be anything in it. But this is serious stuff. If the US is getting its presidential elections hacked, things have gotten really, really out of control. The American voters – and the rest of the world for that matter, who may also be susceptible to illegal vote-tampering of this kind – must be 100 per cent certain that their democratic process is healthy.
Ironically, it was always Trump and his supporters who were bellowing that the election was rigged – before he won, of course. If he still believes that (a long shot, of course, the man doesn’t retain a view from one sentence to the next) then he too should want to be reassured that the elections were fair. If a recount doesn’t go ahead, there will always be a destructive question mark hanging over the legitimacy of his presidency.
No, vote recounts shouldn’t happen as a matter of course. But there’s too much at stake here. Recount. It’s the only way to be sure.