This year’s election faced an unprecedented kink: hacking. Wikileaks published hacked emails from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, for example, and Russian hackers were accused of compromising state election systems. Now some wonder whether hackers targeted the actual Nov. 8 vote results, shifting them in favor of Donald Trump in swing states where the vote was expected to be close. New York Magazine reported Tuesday that experts were urging the Clinton campaign to challenge the results in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The report, which cited an unnamed source, said a group including a computer scientist and a voting rights attorney had raised questions as to whether the election results in these states could have been hacked. Group members reportedly discussed their findings in a conference call with Clinton campaign staff last Thursday. Clinton’s camp has until this Friday to call for a Wisconsin recount, until Monday in Pennsylvania, and until next Wednesday in Michigan, the report notes. It also says that Clinton would only be able to claim a victory should all three of these states overturn their results, which would take Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes and Wisconsin’s 10 away from Donald Trump’s 290. Clinton would also have to tack on Michigan’s 16 electoral votes, which have unofficially been assigned to Trump but have yet to be finalized, to clinch the victory. After the Nov. 8 tallies, Clinton lags Trump by 58 electoral votes. But a number of experts contend that the New York Magazine piece contains some incorrect numbers.
The article says that “Clinton received 7 percent fewer votes in counties that relied on electronic voting machines compared with counties that used optical scanners and paper ballots. Based on this statistical analysis, Clinton may have been denied as many as 30,000 votes; she lost Wisconsin by 27,000.” However, Nate Silver, founder and editor-in-chief of the highly regarded, statistics-driven news site FiveThirtyEight, tweeted a quick analysis, claiming that this statement did not survive what Silver called a “basic sanity check.” He said the numbers in the article did not necessarily prove that Clinton would have won Wisconsin, according to his own model.
J. Alex Halderman, who directs the University of Michigan Center for Computer Security and Society and was among the experts mentioned in the New York Magazine report, also responded to and took issue with parts of the story hours after it was published, writing in a blog post: “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.” However, Halderman said the possibility of a cyberattack was still present, with the history of email and database hackings earlier in the election. Plus, plenty of papers Halderman cites have found security holes in American voting machines. His blog post highlighted that “the only way to know whether a cyber attack changed the result is to closely examine the available physical evidence”—the actual paper ballots. And the only way such an examination could happen would be if the Clinton team was to successfully petition the states for recounts this week.