As It Happens

Jill Stein demands election recount, citing possible electronic voting errors

Green Party candidate Jill Stein is calling for a recount in some key battleground states of the US presidential election after security experts raise questions over the integrity of electronic voting machines
(Reuters/Charles Mostoller/AP/Alan Diaz)

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Green party presidential candidate Jill Stein wants to set the record straight on what she's calling "voting anomalies" after the U.S. election, and it looks like she might get her wish.
Ms. Stein plans to request recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. By Thursday afternoon, she had already raised four million dollars through a crowdfunding campaign.
The push towards a recount started in earnest with a small coalition of computer security experts. They noticed that in those three battleground states, the vote count between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was extremely close. They also noticed some irregularities. 

(Courtesy of Barbara Simons)

Barbara Simons is one of those experts. She's an advisor to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. She spoke with As it Happens host Carol Off from Stony Brook, New York.

Carol Off: Ms. Simons, how do you react to the news that Jill Stein will officially request a recount in some key states?

Barbara Simons: The United States — and I must say parts of Canada as well — have become very dependent on computers in our elections. And we have a tendency to accept what the computers say as true, even though we know from personal experience that's not necessarily the case. 

CO: Let's talk about the machines that are in question in these key states. Let's talk about Wisconsin. What are your concerns there?

BS: Well with all of these machines — for example Wisconsin — there are two types of systems that are used. One is the kind that we computer scientists consider the best at the moment, which is paper ballots that are marked by the voter, and then fed into a scanner, and the scanner tabulates the votes. The other is something called Direct Recording Electronic — in most cases, a touchscreen machine, where the voter makes his or her selection on the machine itself. And the machine records the vote internally, in memory. In the case of Wisconsin, these machines all have what's called a voter-verified paper audit trail — that, in theory, the voters are supposed to examine when they vote to see that it records their votes correctly, but in most cases they don't. So it's not terribly reliable. These two systems, the point they have in common, is that in both cases, the results are determined by computers. And as I just said, with computers, you need to check them. We don't have any kind of national check. And some states have laws that make it essentially impossible even to do a recount.

"What I'm saying is — independent ofwhat people may or may not think happened in this election, independent of whatever theories people may have — after any election, we need to check on the computers, 'cause the computers can be wrong.- Barbara Simons

CO: The questions concerning Wisconsin, as one example, is that there were disproportionate wins by Mr. Trump in counties using electronic voting, compared to those where there was only paper balloting. Is that something that raises some suspicions?

BS: Well, actually, that theory turns out to be somewhat wrong — because the person who came up with it didn't consider one of the variables. So we don't know that that's in fact true. What we do know is that we haven't been checking on what the machines say. What I'm saying is — independent of what people may or may not think happened in this election, independent of whatever theories people may have — after any election, we need to check on the computers, 'cause the computers can be wrong. And the only way we can examine them really well is by having paper ballots.

CO: It's not clear that even if they do find discrepancies that it will make any difference to the outcome. In fact, it seems doubtful it will. Why is it important to do this?

BS: Because you want to be able to convince the losers, and the losers supporters, that they truly lost. So long as there are any questions about the results — and there are clearly questions in this election that are being asked by a lot of people  — it makes the government appear possibly illegitimate in the eyes of some people. So that people have faith in the electoral part of the democracy, you need to be able to prove that the declared results are correct.

If you want to have the elections hacked in Canada, the best thing to do is have internet voting.- Barbara Simons

CO: What concerns should the Canadian government have [about switching to computer/internet based voting]?

BS: First of all, the notion that internet voting increases the number of people who vote is not true. The increase is small. It doesn't even increase participation by young people. On top of that, if you want to have the elections hacked in Canada, the best thing to do is have internet voting — because that makes it really easy to hack them, anywhere. And a nation state has enormous power to do that. And in fact with a lot of these internet voting systems a smart kid can do it. 

For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Barbara Simons.