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Sorry, Democrats: Michigan and Wisconsin Recounts Won’t Change Election Results

To the disappointment of many liberals and Democrats who eagerly supported Jill Stein’s recount efforts, the recent recounts in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin are unlikely to have an effect on the results of the 2016 presidential election.

In November, a group of computer security experts urged the Hillary Clinton campaign to ask for a recount on the basis of possible voter machine hacking. As yet, no direct evidence of hacking has been found, nor has the recount turned up any discrepancies.
Already, six counties in Wisconsin have completed their ballot recounts and have reported that the margin remains unchanged. While Oakland and Ingham counties were the first to start their recounts in the Detroit area, others will follow in the coming days. Although many Hillary supporters are still holding out hope, the recounts haven’t revealed anything new.

That’s because the majority of votes cast in Michigan and Wisconsin were done so on paper ballots, rather than on electronic voting machines. Making the switch to paperless technology is appealing to Americans across the board, both for cost-saving and environmental reasons. In fact, if only 20% of American households opted for electronic billing instead of paper invoices, we’d save 151 million pounds of paper every year. But while paperless options are gaining in popularity worldwide, election security experts say that paper is actually the most accurate and secure method of voting.

J. Alex Halderman is a professor at the University of Michigan and one of the cyber security experts who pushed for a recount. Contrary to popular opinion, Halderman says that hacking voting machines is incredibly easy to do — and it doesn’t matter if a computer is hooked up to the internet or not. If voting software is infected with malware before being loaded onto each individual voting machine, those votes can be controlled and modified, regardless of whether a voting machine has direct internet access.

But even if some voting machines were hacked in this manner — and there is no evidence that is the case — not all of these machines produce any kind of physical record of the votes cast. That means that in counties where electronic voting machines were used, a recount of these votes wouldn’t reveal anything sinister without a physical paper ballot against which to double-check the results.

This is why security experts are stressing the safety and reliability of paper ballots. When voters fill out a paper ballot, their vote is scanned into a computer for counting. This method is called optical scan voting. Alternatively, voters can vote on a computer screen that then prints out a paper record of their choice. This record is called a voter-verifiable paper audit trail. Either one of these options involves a paper voting record that cannot be modified by infected software or misconstrued by machines or by humans.

Yet, surprisingly, about half of U.S. states have no laws that require paper ballots to be manually examined; the majority of the rest only do spot-checking.

And according to experts like Haldernman, that makes the U.S. election system incredibly vulnerable to manipulation.

“Much more needs to be done to secure America’s elections, and important new safeguards could be put in place by 2018. States still using paperless voting machines should replace them with optical scan systems, and all states should update their audit and recount procedures. There are fast and inexpensive ways to verify (or correct) computer voting results,” Halderman wrote recently. “Officials need to begin preparing soon to make sure all of these improvements are ready before the next big election.”

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