J. Alex Halderman Corrects The Record On Hacking Of Electoral College Results, And Why Recount 2016 Is Necessary [Opinion]

An article out of New York Magazine this week generated a lot of buzz when it was revealed that renowned computer scientist J. Alex Halderman had been in quiet conversation with the Hillary Clinton campaign about petitioning for a recount of electoral college results in elections 2016, in three swing states.

That one article led to not just a lot of buzz, but actionable results within 24 hours, but not by the Hillary Clinton campaign. It also led to a lot of confusion and assumptions. So J. Alex Halderman has gone public to correct the record about his proposal to recount the initial electoral map results, in a report on Medium, to explain a little more about why he thinks a recount in three swing states is necessary.

The day after the New York Magazine story, Green Party candidate for president Dr. Jill Stein announced she would be petitioning the three states Professor Halderman discussed for a recount of initial electoral college results if America paid for it.

So America did. Within 48 hours Jill Stein, and the Green Party, has raised over 4.7 million dollars and counting for the “Election Integrity Project” that is now also called Recount 2016.

Dr. Stein says very clearly on the fundraising website, in a statement that was not updated until after 2.5 million had been collected, that the recount of initial electoral college results from election day might not even happen. She’s just collecting money by the millions, just in case it does.

“We cannot guarantee a recount will happen in any of these states we are targeting. We can only pledge we will demand recounts in those states. If we raise more than what’s needed, the surplus will also go toward election integrity efforts and to promote voting system reform….The total cost is likely to be $6-7 million. “

If the petitions for the Election Integrity Project fail, she will have millions. To be fair, she’s not doing it without merit.

Professor Halderman has made a very good case that the American election may have been hacked. Keyword: May have been.

When it comes to computer science, J. Alex Halderman is no nobody. He has studied, and even teaches Ph. D students at the University of Michigan, the science of electronic voting. Or as he calls it, “Digital Democracy.” He’s also proven that elections can be hacked, and as Reveal News writes, “is credible and trusted among his peers.”

His history includes showing how different voting technologies can be hacked, and he’s done it in Washington D.C., Estonia, and Australia. Those that know the name J. Alex Halderman know that he’s the guy who hacked Washington D.C.’s Internet voting system in 2010 in less than 48 hours, with a system that changed ballots and spied on voters.

He left a little calling card in that experiment, as many good hackers like to do, just to let you know they were there. When voters cast their ballot online, the computer would play the University of Michigan fight song. Reveal News reports that law professor at the University of California, Irvine, Rick Hasen, wrote in his blog,

“Halderman is very credible, and if he says there are anomalies that deserve investigation, they should be investigated.”

The very thought of a possible hacking of the election is the basis for Americans requesting a recount, and the impetus leading the #AuditTheVote trend that has been circulating Twitter for weeks. As the Inquisitr previously reported, the White House has said there’s been hacking, the NSA has said there’s been hacking, 17 intelligence officials have said the American election has been hacked.

Wiki Leaks and the DNC hacking have been a running theme in this election. There is more circumstantial evidence to believe that there is hacking, then to suggest that there hasn’t been hacking in this election. Even so, the evidence remains circumstantial.

In the New York Magazine piece, many jumped to the erroneous conclusion that Professor Halderman suggested conclusive proof to the Clinton camp that the American election was hacked. Indeed he has not.

Instead, he says, as he corrects the record in a piece in Medium, the only way to get that conclusive proof, if it exists, is to do a recount. If there was hacking he says, it’s in the ballots. And the only way to see if there is evidence is to do a recount.

It’s a case of, what comes first, the evidence, or a recount of the ballots? Neither, the ballots are the evidence.

There’s been a lot of talk about the difference between the exit polls and final election results. Investigative journalist Greg Palast calls exit polls “historically deadly accurate.” And they usually are, which is why everyone talks about them so much on Election Day. But something weird definitely happened in this election, as the initial electoral college results do not match all data about voters obtained prior to this election through polls.

Nate Silver has explained it with a demographic shift and late voters going to Trump.

But as the Inquisitr reported in a separate report, the exit polls say, Hillary Clinton should have won, and that most voters decided who they were voting for months ago.

And Nate Silver has a bit of egg on his face after saying that Hillary Clinton had an 83.5 percent chance of winning Wisconsin, a 78.9 percent chance of winning Michigan, and a 77 percent chance of winning Pennsylvania.

Silver, who has won “Most Influential” awards for correctly calling elections through polls, has to explain how wrong he was with some explanation if he ever wants anyone to believe any of his polls again.

Voter suppression is also a theory on why Hillary Clinton did not get as many minorities as expected. This is a study that journalist Greg Palast has been studying and reporting on extensively.

Professor Halderman has a theory too, as noted in his Medium piece correcting the record. Either the polls are systematically wrong. Or, the election was hacked.

He also says, he doesn’t think one of those theories is more likely than the other. He also says, the only way to know for sure, and rule out at least one of those theories, is to recount and look at the actual ballots to determine if there is evidence of election hacking.

When referring to the New York Magazine piece that threw America into a frenzy over the Clinton camp being contacted to petition for a recount of electoral college results, by J. Alex Halderman, Professor Halderman says,

“That article…includes somebody else’s descriptions of my views, incorrectly describes the reasons manually checking ballots is an essential security safeguard.”

Professor Halderman goes on in a Medium post on what he, and “other leading election security experts” have been saying about this topic to the Clinton camp, and, “everyone who’s willing to listen.”

His bottom line is, in order to prove hacking existed in this election, one needs evidence. He draws it out much simpler than many are making it out to be. All you need to do, he says, is look at the ballots. The only way to do that is Recount 2016.

Ballots are paper evidence. And if that evidence doesn’t match what is in the voting computer, then Houston, or, Pennsylvania, or, Wisconsin, or, Michigan, then we have a problem. The strongest argument to opponents of this theory is, “But those machines aren’t connected to the Internet.”

Professor Halderman says, that doesn’t matter. He says if it is a machine, it can be hacked or manipulated to say whatever the attacker wants it to say.

He describes one possible way that it can be done, but also says, a diligent and motivated hacker will find any way. One scenario he proposes is that attackers would scout election offices well in advance of the election, to look for ways to enter their computers at the main office level. This he says would happen long before voting machines are ever discussed or turned on, or ballots are even printed.

His theory is that, as the election gets nearer, the attackers assess, according to the polls, what states or counties are going to be the “problem” ones with the more narrow margins come Election Day. Professor Halderman says malware can then be spread into the voting machines, rigging them to not only shift the votes by small margins but also erase itself once the polls close.

“A skilled attacker’s work might leave no visible signs – though the country might be surprised when results in several close states were off from pre-election polls.”

Professor Halderman says that before the voting machines are even in the picture, poll workers scan a government template of the ballot on their own administrative computers, that are connected to the Internet. He says they are “almost certainly not secured.”

That image gets downloaded to a drive, like a flash drive or the like, which is then inserted into the voting machine to cast the template for voters come Election Day.

Election officer Mike Young, right, sets up a voting machine as other precinct workers watch before the site was opened to voters on Election Day Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn.
[Image by Mark Humphrey]

And that’s one scenario that he proposes that hacking could occur in an election, in one state, in multiple counties all across the state, without the hacker needing to be physically present at every machine and every precinct station. Another argument to “hacking is too impossible to co-ordinate across every county in a given state” can also be countered by Halderman.

Every county in one state does not need to be tampered with. The attacker only needs to attack enough counties to create a win in the state.

Professor Halderman also says election hacks recently happened in 2014 in the Ukraine, where the hackers sabotaged the country’s vote-counting system, and almost led to the wrong winner being announced. Professor Halderman also says, Russia isn’t the only country that can do this, and that “most of the world’s military powers now have sophisticated cyber warfare capabilities.”

Professor Halderman has done tests in his own lab where in literally seconds he has been able to install vote stealing malware on voting machines without actually being on the machine itself.

“We’ve been pointing out for years that voting machines are computers, and they have reprogrammable software, so if attackers can modify that software by infecting the machines with malware, they can cause the machines to give any answer whatsoever. It doesn’t matter whether the voting machines are connected to the Internet.”

Alex Halderman recommends paper ballots, every time, for the American that wants to feel fail-safe when it comes to their vote, and their elections. He also says that for this one, checking out those paper ballots just to rule out the notion of nefarious hacking is a good idea, especially since the margins in the swing states in question are so low.

The margin in Wisconsin is 0.7 percent, 1.2 percent for Pennsylvania, and Michigan is 0.3 percent. The experts say it can not be called election fraud without evidence.

Professor Halderman says, in an election, that’s what a ballot is, and you can’t get evidence of election fraud or hacking without recounting the ballots that produced the first round of electoral college results in the first place. Watch Professor Halderman speak here about that time he hacked Washington and more about the science of political hacking.

Popular Science has named J. Alex Halderman as one of the ten “brightest minds reshaping science, engineering, and the world.” In addition to being Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan and also the Director of Michigan’s Center for Computer Security and Society, he also teaches an online course on this very topic called, “Securing Digital Democracy.”

[Feature Image By Alexander F. Yuan/AP Images]

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