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Academics advocate a challenge to the 2016 presidential election vote

You may have read recently about a group of academics and others from various fields requesting an “audit” of votes from this year’s presidential election.

New York Magazine was among the first to report the concerns of a group headed by lawyer John Bonifaz and the University of Michigan’s J. Alex Halderman that “results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania may have been manipulated or hacked.”

Of course, one of those states, Pennsylvania, was a virtual must-win for now-President-Elect Donald Trump while the other two, although close leading up to November 8, were considered certain Clinton territory.

In a separate piece, Halderman points out that hackers infiltrated the email system of the Democratic National Committee and that of Hillary Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta.

UC Berkeley statistician Philip Stark and MIT cryptographer Ron Rivest state much the same, as well as noting that pre-election polls “were consistently off,” and that “various aspects of the preliminary results, such as a high rate of undervotes for president, have aroused suspicion.”

Although yours truly didn’t particularly care for either of this year’s candidates, I do maintain a high degree of skepticism about the objectivity of many college academics … but most especially that of the media.

Does anyone remember this sort of stuff from back in 2004? I do. Quite well, in fact:

I also remember vividly the debacle of the 2000 election in which Democratic operatives, especially former Florida Representative Robert Wexler jumping in front of any camera within sight on election night to complain about the “sanctity” of his state’s votes — due (mainly at the time) to the infamous “butterfly ballot” (the designer of which is a “die-hard Democrat”).

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Here’s the question for 2016: Why only be concerned with votes in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin? Why no concern over New Hampshire where the margin of Clinton’s victory was less than a scant 3,000 votes? The state, after all, uses electronic voting machines, and although a recent report claimed those machines are essentially tamper-proof, Halderman says it doesn’t matter if voting machines are networked, and that “technically sophisticated attackers” could bypass memory card security measures.

But here’s where the silliness comes into play: Why does Halderman include Michigan in his audit request? The state uses paper ballots for voting.

Even noted prediction guru Nate Silver expressed his befuddlement at this:

Right here you see an agenda: A state which uses electronic machines is of no seeming concern, while one that uses an unhackable method of voting … is?

But — Halderman et. al. either don’t really believe the election outcome is a result of tampering … or they admit there’s no evidence of it.

“Were this year’s deviations from pre-election polls the results of a cyberattack?” Halderman asks. “Probably not. I believe the most likely explanation is that the polls were systematically wrong, rather than that the election was hacked.” (He adds, however, that he doesn’t “believe that either one of these seemingly unlikely explanations is overwhelmingly more likely than the other.” Right. Now define “overwhelmingly” for us, prof.)

“Did human error, computer glitches, hacking, or other problems change the outcome?” Rivest and Stark ask. “While there is, as yet, no compelling evidence, the news about hacking and deliberate interference makes it worth finding out.”

If the election outcome was different, and if Halderman and company actually still advocated for an election audit, does anyone think mainstream outlets like New York Magazine and USA Today would be reporting on it?

Fortunately, although Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s sister has been quite vocal online in lobbying for a vote audit, a senior Hillary adviser says the Obama administration “does not want Clinton to challenge the election result.”

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.