Computer Scientists Want Clinton to Challenge Election Results in 3 States

Computer scientists are urging Hillary Clinton to ask for a recount in three states, but experts are skeptical.

Hillary Clinton and supporters

Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail in New Hampshire Feb. 9, 2016.

Hillary Clinton and supporters

Despite winning the popular vote, Hillary Clinton has already conceded to Donald Trump. Petitions are calling for the Electoral College to make Clinton president, though it's extremely unlikely they will succeed. Now though, there could be another strategy to get Clinton into the Oval Office. A group of computer scientists and election lawyers are trying to convince Clinton to challenge the election results and ask for a recount in three states where they think voting machines may have been manipulated or hacked—but experts are extremely skeptical of the claims.

According to New York Magazine, a group of election lawyers, activists, academics, and computer scientists had a conference call last week with John Podesta, the Clinton campaign chairman, and Marc Elias, the campaign general counsel.

The group told the Clinton campaign that they believe the results in three key swing states—Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—were possibly manipulated or hacked (notably, Russia allegedly hacked the Democratic National Committee this summer, which raised concerns about the election). They claim Clinton received 7 percent fewer votes in counties that used electronic-voting machines compared to counties that used paper ballots and optical scanners. Clinton lost Wisconsin by 27,000 votes, and the group believes the voting machines may have kept her from as many as 30,000 votes.

Because of that, they want Clinton to ask for a recount—which she'd have to do very quickly. The deadline to file for a recount is Friday in Wisconsin, Monday in Pennsylvania, and Wednesday in Michigan. 

Notably, the group does not have actual proof of hacking or manipulation, and to pursue their claims a forensic audit of voting machines would be required in addition to the recount. Furthermore, Clinton has focused on unity and a smooth transition of power since she conceded to Donald Trump, so it's unlikely that she would go through with the group's proposal.

On top of that, many experts are skeptical of the group's claims. Nate Cohn of the New York Times broke down the flaws of the allegations in a series of tweets:

So, how much of this do you think evaporates after controlling for race and education? 100%? 90%? 80?

— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) November 22, 2016

Look, maybe these researchers have a lot more than what's in the article. But there's a *very* easy explanation for the pattern in article

— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) November 23, 2016

Two states that use paper ballots: Iowa and Minnesota, where the results look exactly like those in Wisconsin

— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) November 23, 2016

I'm just saying that there's nothing about Trump winning WI that's odd, given how well he did in IA/MN--where there's a paper ballot

— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) November 23, 2016

Effect of paper ballots in Wisconsin goes from 7 pts, like NY article, to 0 if you control for race education, density (true w&w/o weights,)

— Nate Cohn (@Nate_Cohn) November 23, 2016

Similarly, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight also expressed his doubts in a series of tweets:

...the effect COMPLETELY DISAPPEARS once you control for race and education levels, the key factors in predicting vote shifts this year.

— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) November 23, 2016

And Michigan has paper ballots everywhere, so not even sure what claim is being made there.

— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) November 23, 2016

Maybe a more complicated analysis would reveal something, but usually bad news when a finding can't survive a basic sanity check like this.

— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) November 23, 2016

Many are worried that this questionable claims will pick up steam:

Good chance there'll be a whole cottage industry of "STATISTICS PROFESSOR PROVES ELECTION RIGGED" posts at HuffPost, etc., though.

— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) November 23, 2016

I'm old enough to remember when liberals freaked out about people calling election results into question based on unsubstantiated claims

— Brendan Nyhan (@BrendanNyhan in other places) (@BrendanNyhan) November 23, 2016

After his group's claims were slammed by critics on Twitter, professor J. Alex Halderman, the director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Computer Security & Society, went to Medium to "set the record straight." He clarifies: "Were this year’s deviations from pre-election polls the results of a cyberattack? Probably not. I believe the most likely explanation is that the polls were systematically wrong, rather than that the election was hacked."

However, Halderman didn't back down from his requests to challenge the results: "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. Unfortunately, nobody is ever going to examine that evidence unless candidates in those states act now, in the next several days, to petition for recounts."

Current tallies show Trump winning the Electoral College with 290 votes compared to Clinton's 232. Michigan's 16 votes haven't been given out yet because the vote is still too close to call. If recounts gave Michigan to Clinton and overturned Wisconsin (which has 10 votes) and Pennsylvania (which has 20 votes) to Clinton from Trump, Clinton could win the Electoral College. But don't count on it.

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