What’s the Recount All About?

Listening to the Sunday morning new shows this past weekend, it appeared to me that the pending or potential recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania were shrouded in mystery. Perhaps you might like a bit of light cast on the subject?

To begin, let’s be very clear. The recount process is NOT about determining who voted legitimately or not but solely about determining whether all votes were tabulated and counted accurately.

Let’s start with the obvious questions.

FIRST: Why Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania?

[1] Historically, those states have been predictably Democratic and would likely be close and thus might have been deliberately chosen as targets of a possible “fiddle” by someone so disposed;

[2] The aggregate popular vote margin in those States was about 100,000 and therefore could be decisive. IF the popular margin was reversed in each of the three states, the Electoral College result instead would be 278 for Clinton and 260 for Trump;

[3] Several comparable counties in all three states produced seemingly conflicting results—for example, adjacent counties that historically have had very similar voting patterns apparently showed surprisingly different results—which is what led some computer geniuses to have serious questions about possible explanations for that disparity.

SECOND: Could the system have been fiddled?  I am NOT remotely a computer expert, but I can understand when intelligent people speak English and explain in simple terms. Given the fact that such “fiddlers” would likely be of Moscow and New York Philharmonic standards, here are the possibilities:

[1] Hackers might have targeted the voting machines. Modern voting machines (though not all are alike) are vulnerable to a hack that could produce phony results. In some areas, votes are first recorded on paper and then ballots are fed into machines for tabulation. Functioning as properly intended, a machine accurately logs all votes as they are expressed on the paper ballots. If such a voting machine had been hacked, it could have taken in ballots as usual but simply returned an inaccurate count.

In other areas, votes are input directly (without paper) into the machine, which prints a sort of “receipt” intended to serve as a confirmation for the voter. Because the accumulation and counting of votes is still performed by the machine itself, it would be possible that a hacked system could log a different vote than the input while still printing a receipt that indicates that it was functioning correctly.

Any direct assaults on all voting machines would have taken a great deal of careful coordination and could not have been easily tailored to the specific needs of a particular election without arousing significant suspicion. But given a very high level of sophistication, such an attack could leave no trace beyond a discrepancy between paper ballots and electronic vote tallies.

Broadly viewed, hacking of voting machines is widely regarded as the most complex method to have been employed and is thus the least likely?

[2] Hackers could have attacked the transmission of voting results. Assuming that voting machines were not hacked, the most likely “fiddle” would be to alter the vote count during transmission from one official database to another. Such an attack could be perpetrated by a single person, even one in a foreign country, and because interim tallies would be evident to the hacker, a more precise manipulation would be possible even as the initial counting was still underway. Such manipulation could have been simple as adding or subtracting a few 1’s or 0’s. Evidently, such interventions can be almost impossible to trace or even detect. However, such a manipulation would be evident from looking at all voting machines again and the paper ballots and comparing those to the final original tally.

If the voting machines and/or the computers that reported the original “official” final tallies had been hacked, there inevitably would be a disparity between the vote as originally recorded and as tabulated in a recount.

Why was the Clinton campaign initially reluctant to ask for a simple recount, which is legally normal and permissible, to prove or disprove the possibility of a disruption? Nothing like this has ever happened before and possibly, in the moment, the Clinton campaign was so shocked that they were simply asleep at the switch.

Her concession, exhaustion, and desire to heal surely were part of why Clinton initially did not get involved. Whatever Clinton’s reasons, it was left to the Green Party’s Jill Stein to ask to shore up the integrity of the election process. She raised the requisite amount of money in a just couple of days, (itself an amazing occurrence) and has begun the recount process, perhaps to assuage whatever guilt she might feel for potentially having played spoiler.

What happens next? The simple recount process should not take long. For many reasons, this is not like Florida in 2000—this recount more resembles a straightforward routine audit.

Most likely nothing notable will change and we can then all breathe a sigh of relief that our election system is still intact, even if we are unhappy with the result.

But if the recount numbers are clear and reverse the outcome in all of those three states, we will be in completely uncharted territory. And the question of WHO was behind such a hack will become central. There will certainly be serious political consequences for America and the world.

Either way, a recount will ensure that the sanctity of our election process has been preserved.

At the end of every Election Day, that is the bedrock of DEMOCRACY!

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