HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A Green Party-backed group has asked a Pennsylvania court to order a statewide recount of the state’s Nov. 8 presidential election result, citing in part a computer scientist’s conclusion that electronic voting machines can be manipulated by malware.
The filing on Monday said the 100-plus people attaching their names to the petition believe the election result to be “illegal.” A lawyer in the effort, Larry Otter, said the filing is unprecedented in Pennsylvania. The state’s top elections official, Secretary of State Pedro Cortes, a Democrat, said that there was no evidence of any sort of cyberattacks or irregularities in Pennsylvania’s election. A lawyer for the state Republican Party called the filing “completely without any merit whatsoever.”
At the same time, Green Party-backed voters sought precinct-level recounts in various counties.
Here are answers to questions about the recount effort:
WHO WON PENNSYLVANIA?
Republican President-elect Donald Trump won in Pennsylvania by about 71,000 ballots, or about 1 percentage point, over Democrat Hillary Clinton. By virtue of winning Pennsylvania’s popular vote, Trump captured Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes.
No Republican had won Pennsylvania since George H.W. Bush in 1988, and no Democrat has won the White House without winning Pennsylvania since Harry Truman in 1948.
Green Party candidate Jill Stein drew less than 1 percent of the votes cast — fewer than 50,000 — but nevertheless is leading the recount charge.
WHAT’S THE POINT?
Stein has spearheaded a recount effort in three states — Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — that have a history of backing Democrats for president and where Trump won unexpectedly and relatively narrowly over Clinton.
Stein has said the purpose is to ensure that “our votes are safe and secure,” considering hackers’ probing of election targets in other states and hackers’ accessing the emails of the Democratic National Committee and several Clinton staffers. U.S. security officials believe Russian hackers orchestrated the hacks of email.
Pennsylvania’s voting machines also have been criticized for their lack of a paper trail.
WHAT’S THE EVIDENCE
The court papers filed Monday cite an affidavit by University of Michigan computer scientist Alex Halderman stating that results produced by electronic voting machines could have been manipulated by malware.
The documents also say the evidence may be supplemented with the results of dozens of precinct-level recounts being pursued by Green Party-backed voters in Philadelphia and Allegheny, Bucks and Montgomery counties, among other jurisdictions.
County officials would need to ensure the paperwork meets requirements before a precinct recount can proceed. Pennsylvania has more than 9,000 precincts.
WHAT DO PENNSYLVANIA ELECTION OFFICIALS SAY
Cortes predicted any recount would change few votes.
“When everything is said and done, you’re going to see that the results are accurate,” Cortes said. “Are they perfect? Did they miss one vote here or there? … To see something systemic that will change the outcome of the election, no, nothing like that I anticipate will come out of the recounts.”
Still, Pennsylvania is considered one of the states most susceptible to hacking because 96 percent of its voting machines store votes electronically. They can produce a paper record of the overall tally after polls close. But there is no paper trail for individual voters to confirm their choices were recorded accurately in the first place.
Cortes has said Pennsylvania is immune from hacking because its voting machines and tabulating systems aren’t connected to the internet. In other words, a hacker would need to physically access the machines to be able to manipulate the vote.
In his affidavit, Halderman said it is irrelevant whether machines are connected to the internet. A foreign government, for instance, could break into an election office in a closely contested state and install malware on a computer that supplies the ballot design to voting machines. Such malware could shift a few percentage points of the vote to a favored candidate, remain inactive during pre-election tests and erase itself after polls close, leaving no trace, Halderman said.
WHAT KIND OF RECOUNT PROVISIONS ARE IN THE LAW?
Under state law, the state’s top elections official must order counties to recount when one candidate wins by less than a half of a percentage point. But the presidential election did not trigger the automatic recount.
The recount request filed by the Green Party-backed group cites a portion of state law that allows an election to be contested. Under this provision, the petitioner must make legitimate claims of fraud or illegality that would definitely change the outcome, said Lawrence Tabas, the Republican Party’s election law specialist.
HOW LONG CAN THIS GO ON?
The deadline theoretically is Dec. 19, when Pennsylvania’s 20 electors of the Electoral College are supposed to cast their ballots for president.
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