Details about election recount request in Pennsylvania
HARRISBURG >> A hearing has been scheduled next week in a Green Partybacked request for a courtordered recount of Pennsylvania’s Nov. 8 presidential election result that cites a computer scientist’s conclusion electronic voting machines can be manipulated by malware.
The Commonwealth Court hearing was scheduled for Dec. 5 in Harrisburg.
The court 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 there was no evidence of any sort of cyberattacks or irregularities in the election. A lawyer for the state Republican Party called the filing “without any merit whatsoever.”
At the same time, Green Party-backed voters sought scores of precinct-level recounts in various counties.
Here are answers to questions about the recount effort:
Who won Pennsylvania?
Republican Donald Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton by about 71,000 ballots, or about 1 percentage point, capturing the state’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 is leading the recount charge.
What’s the point?
Stein has spearheaded a recount effort in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, states 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 “our votes are safe and secure,” considering hackers’ probing of election targets in other states and hackers’ accessing of the emails of the Democratic National Committee and several Clinton staffers. U.S. security officials have said they believe Russian hackers orchestrated the email hacks, something Russia has denied.
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 results produced by electronic voting machines could’ve been manipulated by malware.
The documents say the evidence may be supplemented with the results of scores of precinct-level recounts being pursued by Green Party-backed voters, primarily in Philadelphia and Allegheny, Bucks and Montgomery counties. Pennsylvania has more than 9,000 precincts.
County officials would need to ensure the paperwork meets requirements before a precinct recount can proceed. Allegheny County scheduled a recount of 52 precincts on Dec. 5.
What 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.
Cortes has said Pennsylvania is immune from hacking because its voting machines and tabulating systems aren’t connected to the internet.
Halderman said it’s irrelevant whether machines are connected to the internet: A foreign government 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 candidate and erase itself after polls close, Halderman said.
What 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.