Just barely in the nick of time, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein has officially requested a recount of election results from the Nov. 8 contest in which Republican candidate Donald Trump defeated Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton to become president elect.
While a request for a recount in a close race isn’t unusual, in this case it wasn’t Clinton that initially requested a recount, but rather Stein, whose vote totals were only a fraction of Clinton’s. No matter how the recount is handled, there’s no chance at all that Stein will win. However over the weekend officials with Clinton’s campaign organization has said it will participate in the recount requested by Stein.
What’s remarkable is this recount isn’t based on a supposition that there was some kind of malfeasance, or even just bad counting. Instead, Stein is basing her request on the supposition by a group of computer scientists that the election in Wisconsin could have been hacked.
Those computer scientists, led by Prof. Alex Halderman of the University of Michigan, say they conducted a statistical analysis of the election results, and found disparities between the reported vote and what they expected based on the polls.
The basis for this disparity is a claim that the votes recorded on electronic voting machines versus those using paper ballots show an inconsistency. This, according to Halderman, may be evidence that the voting machines were hacked. However, neither Halderman, Stein, nor anyone else has shown any actual evidence that there was any tampering with the results.
In fact, the primary evidence that the computer scientists are relying on appears to be the pre-election polls as they were reported in some of the media. Unfortunately, since the election the pollsters have admitted that they got it wrong because of a variety of inaccurate assumptions on how the poll results should be weighted.
However, the reports by the computer scientists got the attention of political activists who were looking for some way to invalidate the election, or at least find a way to throw a monkey wrench into the election results even as the Trump transition team dithers about cobbling together his administration.
The activists apparently didn’t gain any ground with the Clinton campaign, which is actually the only group that could win if the recounts found something wrong. But they were successful in convincing the Stein campaign.
Halderman said in a blog post on Medium that there should be recounts in three states with close elections, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, to see if there was evidence of hacking by the Russians or anyone else. He suggested comparing the results from areas with electronic voting machines against areas that use paper ballots to see if there were differences that could be explained by such hacks.
But there’s little chance that a recount in Wisconsin would show any evidence of such hacking.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated to reflect that Hillary Clinton’s campaign organization has decided to participate in a vote recount in Wisconsin.