Was there ‘outside interference’ in the US election?

Recounts rarely change the outcomes of elections, but the Democrats are quietly looking at the closest states for anomalies

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Like most Americans, voters in Wisconsin cast their ballots on November 8.
Gulf News

Washington: Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign has been quietly exploring whether there was any “outside interference” in the election results and will participate in the election recount in Wisconsin initiated by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, a Clinton campaign lawyer said on Saturday.

Clinton campaign lawyer Marc Elias said in a Medium post that the campaign has received “hundreds of messages, emails, and calls urging us to do something, anything, to investigate claims that the election results were hacked and altered in a way to disadvantage Secretary Clinton,” especially in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where the “combined margin of victory for Donald Trump was merely 107,000 votes.”

Elias said the campaign has “not uncovered any actionable evidence of hacking or outside attempts to alter the voting technology.” But because of the margin of victory — and the degree of apparent foreign interference during the campaign — Elias said Clinton officials had “quietly taken a number of steps in the last two weeks to rule in or out any possibility of outside interference in the vote tally in these critical battleground states.”

He said the Clinton campaign will participate in the Stein-initiated recount in Wisconsin by having representatives on the ground monitoring the count and having lawyers represent them in court if needed. And if Stein makes good on efforts to prompt similar processes in Pennsylvania and Michigan, Elias said, the Clinton campaign would do so there, as well.

“The campaign is grateful to all those who have expended time and effort to investigate various claims of abnormalities and irregularities,” Elias said. “While that effort has not, in our view, resulted in evidence of manipulation of results, now that a recount is underway, we believe we have an obligation to the more than 64 million Americans who cast ballots for Hillary Clinton to participate in ongoing proceedings to ensure that an accurate vote count will be reported.”

The recount effort is somewhat unusual in that it comes weeks after Clinton conceded — and at the request and with the financial backing of a third-party candidate, Stein, who has no chance of winning, said election-law expert Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine. Clinton, too, has virtually no chance of altering the result, given that she would have to reverse not just Wisconsin but also Michigan and Pennsylvania to become president, Hasen said.

For her part, Stein took to Twitter to question Clinton’s motives for participating in the recount effort.

“Why would Hillary Clinton — who conceded the election to Donald Trump — want #Recount2016?” Stein wrote. “You cannot be on-again, off-again about democracy.”

Recounts can change outcomes. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota famously defeated Norm Coleman for the seat he now holds after a months-long recount and legal battle, even though Coleman seemed initially to have a lead. But the margins are usually in the hundreds, not thousands, and typically recounts are initiated by candidates in close races refusing to accept defeat, Hasen said.

“I don’t think there’s any realistic chance whatsoever that even if recounts are done in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, that’s going to change the outcome in the states, or in the presidential election generally,” Hasen said.

Trump won 1,404,000 votes in Wisconsin, according to the state’s election commission, while Clinton had 1,381,823. The Wisconsin recount will be conducted by county boards of canvassers, who must move quickly to meet a mid-December deadline to ensure the state’s electoral votes are counted. Stein has to file by Monday to prompt a recount in Pennsylvania, and by Wednesday to trigger a recount in Michigan. The results in that state are not technically certified until Monday.

The presidential campaign was marked by fears that Russian hacking might affect the outcome, especially after the hackers penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee and were found to have attempted intrusions on voter registration databases. The Washington Post also recently reported, citing researchers who tracked the phenomenon, that Russians created and spread fake news about the election with the apparent goal of helping Trump.

During the campaign, Clinton criticised Trump for refusing to say that he would accept the election results if she won. Asked during an October debate whether he would do so, Trump responded that he would “keep you in suspense.” Clinton called that answer “horrifying” and said Trump was “talking down our democracy.”

In recent days, though, it is Clinton’s supporters who have raised questions about the outcome of the election. A viral post spread by some Clinton backers, including actress Debra Messing, suggested — falsely — that the Justice Department was “tallying calls” from people who wanted an audit of the 2016 election and urged people to make their displeasure known.

“Even if it’s busy, keep calling,” one version said. “We should not back down from this.”

New York magazine reported that Clinton was being urged “by a group of prominent computer scientists and election lawyers” to call for a recount in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and the group had evidence of possibly unusual activity. That fuelled more scepticism and calls for action by Clinton supporters.

The evidence of possible malfeasance, though, was limited. According to New York magazine, the group found that Clinton “received 7 per cent fewer votes in counties that relied on electronic-voting machines compared with counties that used optical scanners and paper ballots,” and that based on that “statistical analysis, Clinton may have been denied as many as 30,000 votes; she lost Wisconsin by 27,000.”

J. Alex Halderman, one of the academics reportedly involved, later wrote on Medium that the deviations were “probably not” the result of a cyberattack, but that “the only way to know whether a cyberattack changed the result is to closely examine the available physical evidence — paper ballots and voting equipment in critical states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.”

Elias’s post might prompt similar criticism. Notably, though, Clinton did not initiate the recount herself; Stein did, after raising millions of dollars to fund the effort and claiming this had been a “hack-riddled election.” Elias said the campaign had not planned to ask for a recount itself because it had found no actionable evidence of hacking.

The Clinton campaign had investigated the matter extensively. Elias said the campaign had “lawyers and data scientists and analysts combing over the results to spot anomalies,” and had also “monitored and staffed the post-election canvasses — where voting machine tapes are compared to poll-books, provisional ballots are resolved, and all of the math is double-checked from election night.” He said the campaign also met with outside experts and “attempted to systematically catalogue and investigate every theory that has been presented to us within our ability to do so.”

Now that a recount effort is underway, Elias said it was “important” to participate in the proceedings. He played down the idea that the recount would change the outcome.

“Regardless of the potential to change the outcome in any of the states,” Elias said, “we feel it is important, on principle, to ensure our campaign is legally represented in any court proceedings and represented on the ground in order to monitor the recount process itself.”

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