Five days after Donald Trump was elected president, Alex Halderman was on a United Airlines flight from Newark to Los Angeles when he received an urgent email. A respected computer scientist and leading critic of security flaws in America’s voting machines, Halderman was anxious to determine whether there had been foul play during the election. Had machines in Wisconsin or Michigan been hacked? Could faulty software or malfunctioning equipment have skewed the results in Pennsylvania? “Before the election, I had been saying I really, really hope there’s not a hack and that it’s not close,” he says. “Afterwards, I thought, ‘Wait a minute, there’s enough reason here to be concerned.’ ” Now, wedged into a middle seat on the cross-country flight, Halderman stared in disbelief at the email from Barbara Simons, a fellow computer scientist and security expert. Working with Amy Rao, a Silicon Valley CEO and major Democratic fundraiser, Simons had arranged a conference call with John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, to make the case for taking a closer look at the election results. Could Halderman be on the call in 15 minutes? United’s wi-fi system didn’t allow for in-flight phone calls. But Halderman wasn’t fazed. “I’m blocked,” he emailed Simons, “but I can try.” Within minutes, Halderman had circumvented the wi-fi and established an interface with computers at the University of Michigan, where at 36 he is the youngest full professor in the history of the computer science department. He dialed in to the call but did not speak, afraid of drawing attention to the fact that he was violating the airline’s phone ban.
As he listened in, Podesta came on the line. Simons and Rao—along with David Jefferson, a computer scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory—then laid out the reasons that Clinton’s campaign should call for an official review of the election results. The tech experts explained that America’s elections are fundamentally unsound, thanks to a new generation of electronic voting machines and tabulators installed after Florida’s “hanging chads” debacle in 2000. The machines are prone to malfunctions and miscounts, and many have back doors that can enable attackers to alter the outcome by infecting them with malware. The performance of the machines is often verified only by the companies that profit from them, while maintaining the equipment falls to underfunded and under-trained county officials. And because many voting districts create no paper record of electronic votes—more than 80 percent of ballots in Pennsylvania are cast without a paper trail—there is no way to confirm independently whether the tallies are accurate.
To Halderman, the 2016 election seemed like the perfect opportunity to review concerns about America’s voting system. After all, Trump himself had warned that the election was “rigged.” The final vote diverged sharply from the predictions of pre-election polls in a handful of swing states, and the FBI later uncovered evidence that Russian hackers had launched a coordinated effort to defeat Clinton. “If there was ever going to be an election where we should double-check the results,” Halderman says, “this was it.”
Full Article: Inside the Recount | New Republic.