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Election Security Expert Urges Paper Trail Audit

n this Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016 photo, voters fill out their general election ballots at a polling place in Bradfordton, Ill.

n this Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016 photo, voters fill out their general election ballots at a polling place in Bradfordton, Ill. // Seth Perlman/AP

President-elect Donald Trump’s upset victory over Hillary Clinton was “probably not” orchestrated by foreign hackers, a top election security expert said this morning.

But state election officials should audit the election’s paper and digital trails regardless, said J. Alex Halderman, a professor of electrical engineer and computer science and director of the Center for Computer Security and Society at the University of Michigan.

“The only way to know whether a cyberattack changed the result is to closely examine the available physical evidence—paper ballots and voting equipment in critical states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania,” Halderman wrote in a Medium post. “Unfortunately, nobody is ever going to examine that evidence unless candidates in those states act now, in the next several days, to petition for recounts.”

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Halderman’s comments respond to a New York Magazine report that he and other election security experts and attorneys are urging the Clinton campaign to demand recounts in those three states, which polls showed Clinton leading in but that Trump appears to have won. Results in Michigan are still not official, though Trump currently leads by about 9,500 votes.

Halderman criticized the New York story as “somebody else’s description of my views,” which “incorrectly describes the reasons manually checking ballots is an essential security safeguard.”

He also asserted the “most likely explanation is that the polls were systematically wrong, rather than that the election was hacked” but insisted it’s vital a full audit puts additional evidence behind that assertion—especially given election season Russian hacks of Democratic election officials and probing of state voting systems.

Homeland Security and intelligence leaders publicly attributed the election official hacks to the Russian government in October but said there isn’t sufficient evidence to attribute the state system probing.

That probing did curtail, however, after the U.S. government called the Russian government out, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told lawmakers this month.

Halderman urged the Clinton campaign in his Medium post to demand audits of available paper trails of the Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania results before deadlines, which are approaching throughout next week. Those audits will not verify every vote as many voting districts, including most in Pennsylvania, do not have paper trails, he wrote.

“Examining the physical evidence in these states—even if it finds nothing amiss—will help allay doubt and give voters justified confidence that the results are accurate,” Halderman wrote. “It will also set a precedent for routinely examining paper ballots, which will provide an important deterrent against cyberattacks on future elections.”

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