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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Will Hillary challenge the election? If she does, will apocalypse follow? (Important UPDATE)

On November 8, the press told us to stick a fork in Hillary: She's done. Now a few folks are suggesting that we should pull the fork out. From New York Magazine:
Hillary Clinton is being urged by a group of prominent computer scientists and election lawyers to call for a recount in three swing states won by Donald Trump, New York has learned. The group, which includes voting-rights attorney John Bonifaz and J. Alex Halderman, the director of the University of Michigan Center for Computer Security and Society, believes they’ve found persuasive evidence that results in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania may have been manipulated or hacked. The group is so far not speaking on the record about their findings and is focused on lobbying the Clinton team in private.

Last Thursday, the activists held a conference call with Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and campaign general counsel Marc Elias to make their case, according to a source briefed on the call. The academics presented findings showing that in Wisconsin, Clinton received 7 percent fewer votes in counties that relied on electronic-voting machines compared with counties that used optical scanners and paper ballots. Based on this statistical analysis, Clinton may have been denied as many as 30,000 votes; she lost Wisconsin by 27,000. While it’s important to note the group has not found proof of hacking or manipulation, they are arguing to the campaign that the suspicious pattern merits an independent review — especially in light of the fact that the Obama White House has accused the Russian government of hacking the Democratic National Committee.
Nate Cohn and Nate Silver have reacted negatively to the NY Magazine piece, but their response seems insufficient.

A thought occurs to me: If the Russians did hack the election, is it not likely that the NSA would know all (or many of) the details?

That thought immediately gives birth to a second one: Is Obama holding back this information to prevent the country from descending into a Constitutional crisis and possible civil war?

David Corn addressed a similar point nearly a week ago:
This is news worthy of bold and large front-page headlines—and investigation. Presumably intelligence and law enforcement agencies are robustly probing the hacking of political targets attributed to Russia. But there is another inquiry that is necessary: a full-fledged congressional investigation that holds public hearings and releases its findings to the citizenry.

If the FBI, CIA, and other intelligence agencies are digging into the Russian effort to affect US politics, there is no guarantee that what they uncover will be shared with the public. Intelligence investigations often remain secret for the obvious reasons: they involve classified information. And law enforcement investigations—which focus on whether crimes have been committed—are supposed to remain secret until they produce indictments. (And then only information pertinent to the prosecution of a case is released, though the feds might have collected much more.) The investigative activities of these agencies are not designed for public enlightenment or assurance. That's the job of Congress.
Which Congress? The one we have now, or the one that will be seated next year? How do we know that some of those senators and representatives do not owe their positions to Vladimir Putin?

Folks, we are in uncharted territory.

One can understand why "No-Drama Obama" may prefer to pretend that Russia played no role in the events of November 8. If Putin did place his thumb on the scale -- and if Obama knows this -- then we find ourselves in an incredibly dangerous situation, perhaps as dangerous as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Thought experiment: Suppose Obama were to announce that Putin hacked the election. Suppose further that Obama tried to prove the point by releasing intercepted communications. What then?

We can be certain that many of Trump's supporters will refuse to accept any proof offered by the current government, even if the proof seems conclusive. Over the course of a generation, the right has been taught that truth is whatever they prefer to believe, as opposed to what the facts sustain. If right-wingers prefer a green sky, they see a green sky -- and our insistence that the sky is blue only proves our conspiratorial perfidy. This attitude may be considered a defining characteristic of fascism, as historian Timothy Snyder explains in this very important and enlightening interview.

Because we now live in a post-factual nation, any revelation which might endanger Trump's claim to the presidency could cause chaos.

The situation would have no precedent. You can't point to 1860: The election of that year may have initiated a civil war, but even in that case, no-one disputed Abraham Lincoln's constitutional right to the Presidency. If Obama presented compelling evidence that Putin rigged the election in Trump's favor, half the country would nevertheless insist that Trump take the oath of office and half would insist on Hillary.

Let us return to the NY Mag article:
The academics so far have only a circumstantial case that would require not just a recount but a forensic audit of voting machines. Also complicating matters, a senior Clinton adviser said, is that the White House, focused on a smooth transfer of power, does not want Clinton to challenge the election result. Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri did not respond to a request for comment. But some Clinton allies are intent on pushing the issue. This afternoon, Huma Abedin’s sister Heba encouraged her Facebook followers to lobby the Justice Department to audit the 2016 vote. “Call the DOJ...and tell them you want the votes audited,” she wrote. “Even if it’s busy, keep calling.”
Here is Heba's full statement:

The WP has already pooh-poohed this idea:
For supporters of Hillary Clinton, the post circulating on Facebook and Reddit offers hope. The Justice Department, it claims, is “tallying calls” from people who want an audit of the 2016 election. And given the small margins that Donald Trump won by in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, a shift of about 55,000 votes is all that would be needed to change the outcome.

The problem is, it’s bogus. The Justice Department doesn’t count up calls to determine whether it should launch an investigation. And they will not initiate a national audit — or force particular states to recount their results — based on the volume of outrage they receive from voters.
Who said anything about tallying calls? This is a classic "straw man" argument. The WP's reaction is disingenuous.

I see no reason why audits of national elections should not be conducted as a matter of routine, even when the results are as clear-cut as they were in, say, 1980 or 1972. An audit (to the extent that one is possible) is particularly desirable this year, for two reasons:

1. No less an authority than the NSA has said that Russia has interfered with our election. That statement did not come from some wacky Alex Jonesian conspiracy theorist: It's the En-Ess-freakin'-A.

2. Before the election, we had major news organizations like CBS explaining how easy it would be for Putin's hackers to wreak havok with our voting tabulators. Again, that report did not come from some offbeat blogger like Brad Friedman or yours truly. It came from See-Bee-freakin'-ESS.

Given point 1 and point 2, why not conduct an audit?

The guiding force here, obviously, is Obama, who would prefer an orderly transfer of power. Obviously, he does not want anyone to think that he hopes to install Hillary in office illegally -- or, worse, that he seeks a pretext to remain in office during a time of national emergency. I can understand his reasoning.

But in the end, I say: Tell the truth, even if the Truth leads to madness and murder. And God help us all.

My preference would be to seek a solution which gives the presidency to -- believe it or not -- Mike Pence.

Hear me out.

Yes, Pence has many reprehensible views -- but I do not believe that he has any desire to gain emergency powers via some engineered pretext. Trump is capable of doing just that. A cult of personality will never congeal around Pence as it has congealed around Trump. Pence's religious beliefs are, in my opinion, unfeigned -- and a truly religious man will always be capable of shame. Shame is good because it keeps ambition in check; tyrants don't blush. What frightens me most about Donald Trump is that fact that neither shame nor spirituality have any hold on his character.

UPDATE: Now that NY Mag has debagged his feline, J. Alex Halderman has published a piece clarifying the original report. He says that the original piece misrepresents his motives and offers some incorrect numbers. Here are the key points, important links included:
This summer, attackers broke into the email system of the Democratic National Committee and, separately, into the email account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, and leaked private messages. Attackers infiltrated the voter registration systems of two states, Illinois and Arizona, and stole voter data. And there’s evidence that hackers attempted to breach election offices in several other states.

In all these cases, Federal agencies publicly asserted that senior officials in the Russian government commissioned these attacks. Russia has sophisticated cyber-offensive capabilities, and has shown a willingness to use them to hack elections. In 2014, during the presidential election in Ukraine, attackers linked to Russia sabotaged the country’s vote-counting infrastructure and, according to published reports, Ukrainian officials succeeded only at the last minute in defusing vote-stealing malware that was primed to cause the wrong winner to be announced.
This places the right-wingers in an indefensible position. The Trumpers must now maintain that it is acceptable to speak of possible vote-rigging...IF one posits that those evil, evil Clintons are the bad guys. But if one posits that Putin is the bad guy, then all talk of vote-rigging is wild and silly conspiracy theory.
Were this year’s deviations from pre-election polls the results of a cyberattack? Probably not. I believe the most likely explanation is that the polls were systematically wrong, rather than that the election was hacked. But I don’t believe that either one of these seemingly unlikely explanations is overwhelmingly more likely than the other. 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. 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.
Halderman is here trying to strike a non-apocalyptic note. But of course, the apocalypse is still there. To visualize it, one need merely try to imagine the country's reaction to the announcement of a cyberattack.

He then goes on to make an important point. I've repeatedly run into pooh-poohers who claim that our voting machines are safe because they are not connected to the internet. But there is no safety in cutting the cable...
It doesn’t matter whether the voting machines are connected to the Internet. 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. There’s no question that this is possible for technically sophisticated attackers. (If my Ph.D. students and I were criminals, I’m sure we could pull it off.) If anyone reasonably skilled is sufficiently motivated and willing to face the risk of getting caught, it’s happened already.
A Constitutional amendment can assure that all future elections leave a completely human-verifiable paper trail. Anyone who argues against that utterly sensible idea is obviously someone who hopes to benefit from election fraud.

HuffPost links to the SIIP which calls for action prior to December 13, and provides contacts to get the ball rolling.
Keep up the good work, Mr. Cannon!
Audit reason no 3:

3. Results conflicting with exit polling data and anomalies with vote tallies from electronic machines with vs. without ballot imaging/audit logs.

I would also go further and cite previous suspicious results in Ohio 2004, obvious violations with gerrymandered redistricting, voter purges, removal of polling stations, vote caging, removal of voters' rights protections in Jim Crow states, etc. Where are the international organizations supposedly watchdogging this stuff?
Fringe candidate to the rescue? Apparently Jill Stein is raising money to pay for recounts in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin: They've raised almost $700,000 so far, with a goal of $2,500,000 by Friday. I might even dig through the couch cushions for this one.
Rigging the election does not require hacking by the Russians. Electronic voting machines without paper trails give us "faith-based" voting.

A sufficiently skilled "mole" in the relevant elections bureaucracy can rewrite the software to merely flip every 25th vote, and viola -- a dead heat becomes an eight-point blowout. The total number of votes still conform to the paper sign-in sheets, so no one has a clue, unless the exit polls are really off.

And they are in suspected districts.

The real analysis is to compare down-ticket races in the exit polls. If the exit polls match the tabulated results for, say, governor or senator, but a wide variance for President in a suspected county, that could be a red flag.
Jill Stein demanding a recount? Oh! Teh ironing!

Give me a break.
Is Obama holding back this information to prevent the country from descending into a Constitutional crisis and possible civil war?

Romantic fantasies aside, it would be the shortest civil war in history, since only one side would be armed.

Is Obama holding back this information...?

What makes you think Obama would be given this information? Since the assassination of Lumumba, at least, the intelligence agencies have tightly controlled what the president does and does not know. I would think they would welcome proof of Trump and a coterie of Republicans having been placed into office by machinations of the Russians: Not only would there be in power a group of people with interests and positions largely congruent with those of the Deep State, but ones also extremely susceptible to coercion or blackmail should they ever prove troublesome. Why bother the liberal, lame duck POTUS with such news?
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