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Jill Stein wants a recount to make sure voting systems weren't hacked

Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill Stein Holds Rally In New York City Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Over the past 24 hours, we’ve seen more and more liberals calling for a recount of the election in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, the three swing states whose electoral votes delivered the presidency to Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton could call for a recall in those states, but so far she’s shown no interest in doing so.

But Clinton isn’t the only candidate on the ballot in those states. On Wednesday afternoon, Green Party candidate Jill Stein announced that she was interested in seeking a recount, and launched a fundraising drive to help fund the effort. In less than 24 hours, she has already raised more than $2.2 million.

Stein only got about 1 percent of the vote in each of these three states, so there’s no chance the recount could come out in her favor. But that’s not the point. The goal of the recount would be to make sure that Donald Trump really beat Hillary Clinton — and the campaign could raise Stein’s profile among frustrated liberals looking for a champion.

“We are raising money to demand recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — three states where the data suggests a significant need to verify machine-counted vote totals,” the Stein campaign writes. “We cannot guarantee a recount will happen in any of these states we are targeting. We can only pledge we will demand recounts in those states.”

Experts say it’s good to check if voting systems were hacked

The main concern is that a foreign power such as Russia could have hacked key voting systems and tampered with the results of the vote.

To be clear, there’s no evidence that this has occurred. But an attack is theoretically possible. Michigan, Wisconsin, and parts of Pennsylvania use paper ballots, which aren’t hackable on their own. But according to computer security expert Alex Halderman, those ballots are counted by optical-scan computers that could be hacked.

These vote-counting computers are not online, so they can’t be hacked directly from the internet. However, as Halderman explains, “shortly before each election, poll workers copy the ballot design from a regular desktop computer in a government office, and use removable media (like the memory card from a digital camera) to load the ballot onto each machine. That initial computer is almost certainly not well secured, and if an attacker infects it, vote-stealing malware can hitch a ride to every voting machine in the area.”

The good thing about optical-scan voting machines is that a human being can double-check the machine’s work. If a vote-counting machine is systematically shifting votes from one candidate to another, a manual recount of randomly selected ballots should detect the discrepancy. But this only works if someone actually performs the check. And under current election law in most states, that doesn’t happen.

There’s a lot of evidence suggesting that the Russian government has used its hacking capabilities to try to manipulate elections before. Earlier this year, US intelligence agencies blamed the Russian government for leaking emails stolen from senior Democrats in an attempt to influence the US election. We also know that someone — likely the Russian government — tried to hack voting infrastructure in Ukraine to change the outcome of the election there. And a skillful attacker could alter the results of a vote without leaving any obvious fingerprints.

So Halderman and other computer security experts have argued that it’s better to be safe than sorry. Halderman says it would be a good practice for election officials to routinely perform manual audits of vote counts, to make sure that manual counts produce the same results as ballots counted by machine.

Requesting the recount won’t be cheap, as state election laws require the candidate requesting the recount to pay the costs. Stein says she needs to raise $2.2 million to cover the filing fees for recounts in all three states — and the first deadline is on Friday. She has now reached that level, and is close to reaching her overall goal of $2.5 million raised.