Michigan elections director casts doubt on hacking claim

LANSING, MICH. - Michigan's elections director expressed skepticism today about national reports that say a computer security expert at the University of Michigan is part of a group of scientists questioning the results of the presidential election in Michigan and two other states, claiming that their analysis identified irregularities that could point to possible computer hacking.

J. Alex Halderman, director of U-M's Center for Computer Security and Society, is one of a small group of computer scientists urging the Democratic presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton to call for recounts in the battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, according to reports on CNN and elsewhere, citing an unnamed source.

The report says the scientists believe they have identified a questionable trend of Clinton performing worse in Wisconsin counties that relied on electronic voting machines, compared to paper ballots and optical scanners. It wasn't clear from the reports why Michigan and Pennsylvania were reportedly cited by the scientists.

Chris Thomas, the longtime director of Michigan's Bureau of Elections, said Michigan doesn't use the electronic voting machines identified in the report as being the sources of potential hacking.

"We are an entire paper and optical scan state," Thomas told the Free Press this morning. "Nothing is connected to the Internet."

Halderman, who also is listed as a professor of electrical engineering and computer science in U-M's College of Engineering, did not respond to messages left on his cell phone, office phone, or e-mail. But in a blog posting earlier today, he said the media reports contain inaccuracies, though he does think recounts of paper ballots in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania are a good idea.

According to the CNN report, based on a report in New York Magazine, the scientists informed John Podesta, Clinton's campaign chairman, and Marc Elias, the campaign's general counsel, that Clinton received 7% fewer votes in Wisconsin counties that relied on electronic voting machines, and said that could point to hacking. Though they hadn't found evidence of hacking, the pattern pointed to the need for an independent review, the report said.

There was no immediate official response from the Clinton or Trump campaigns.

In his blog post, Haldeman said one form of potential hacking is placing malware in voting machines "to shift a few percent of the vote to favor their desired candidate.

"Were this year’s deviations from pre-election polls the results of a cyberattack?" Halderman asked in his blog posting. "Probably not. I believe the most likely explanation is that the polls were systematically wrong, rather than that the election was hacked.

"But I don’t believe that either one of these seemingly unlikely explanations is overwhelmingly more likely than the other. 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."

Thomas said any hacking would require hacking of computer software systems connected to the optical scan machines, and that would have to be done on a county-by-county basis. And "That would be very, very difficult," he said.

Detroit Free Press


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