Russian Hacker Conspiracy Theory is Weak, But the Case For Paper Ballots is Strong

On Wednesday, J. Alex Halderman, the director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Computer Security & Society and a respected voice in computer science and information society, said that the Clinton Campaign should ask for a recount of the vote for the U.S. Presidential election. Later he wrote, “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. But I don’t believe that either one of these seemingly unlikely explanations is overwhelmingly more likely than the other.” The Outline, a new publication by a dozen of respected journalists, has published a post (on Facebook for now, since their website is still in the works), in which former Motherboard’s reporter Adrianne Jeffries makes it clear that we still don’t have concrete evidence that the vote was tampered with, but why still the case for paper ballots is strong. From the article: Halderman also repeats the erroneous claim that federal agencies have publicly said that senior officials in Russia commissioned attacks on voter registration databases in Arizona and Illinois. In October, federal agencies attributed the Democratic National Committee email hack to Russia, but specifically said they could not attribute the state hacks. Claims to the contrary seem to have spread due to anonymous sourcing and the conflation of Russian hackers with Russian state-sponsored hackers. Unfortunately, the Russia-hacked-us meme is spreading fast on social media and among disaffected Clinton voters. “It’s just ignorance,” said the cybersecurity consultant Jeffrey Carr, who published his own response to Halderman on Medium. “It’s fear and ignorance that’s fueling that.” The urgency comes from deadlines for recount petitions, which start kicking in on Friday in Wisconsin, Monday in Pennsylvania, and the following Wednesday in Michigan. There is disagreement about how likely it is that the Russian government interfered with election results. There is little disagreement, however, that our voting system could be more robust — namely, by requiring paper ballot backups for electronic voting and mandating that all results be audited, as they already are in some states including California. Despite the 150,000 signatures collected on a Change.org petition, what happens next really comes down to the Clinton team’s decision.

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