2016: The Election That Refuses to Die

1466176038f
In the zombie apocalypse, recounts will be made and elections will be rigged only with respect to the amount of fresh BRAAAAAAAAAINS. (Image Credit: Brian Allen)

We had the 2016 presidential election, which sucked. We talked about why the 2016 election sucked. (Short answer: because the candidates both sucked and half the country made a stupid choice.) We’ve discussed just how much it’s going to suck should what we think what is going to happen actually comes to fruition. Therefore, in contemplating just how profound the suckitude, if you will, will prove, we have put the election behind us and are ready to move on and steel ourselves for the politics of the years to come. Right?

Not so fast. By now, most of us get the gist of what went down but a few weeks ago both in terms of the Electoral College and the popular vote. Concerning the former, which is what counts given our current system, Donald Trump carried Election Night. His 306 electoral votes, ahem, trump Hillary Clinton’s 232, an advantage secured by winning 30 states to his rival’s 20. Conversely, with respect to the latter, Clinton had the better showing; as of this writing, over 125 million votes have been counted, and her tally of 64.8 million bests Trump’s figure of 62.5 million, more than 2 million more. Percentage-wise, it’s still close—Hillary captured about 48.0% of the vote to Trump’s 46.3%—but no matter how you slice it, the woman of 1,000 pantsuits won the popular vote. You can’t take away the historic nature of her nomination as the Democratic Party nominee for President of these United States, and you can’t act as if, to borrow a Trump-ism, Hillary Clinton got “schlonged” in the general election.

These realities of the election seem pretty much ironclad. So what’s the lingering preoccupation with the results, especially on the part of people who supported and/or voted for Hillary? Aren’t they just kidding themselves, living in a state of denial? While on some level this may be the case, to be fair, some of the outcomes of individual states were close contests. Like, really close. In Michigan, for example, Donald Trump captured 16 electoral votes on the strength of a margin of victory of less than 10,000 votes, a difference of only about two-tenths of a percent. In Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, too, a divide of only about 1% separates who won and who lost, with the victor (Trump) earning 10 or more electoral votes despite the slim advantage. Noting these narrow wins, which would appear to fall within some sort of margin of error, it wouldn’t be outrageous to think that error alone could have swayed the results in one candidate’s favor. Or, perhaps something more nefarious.

If only there were some way to verify whether or not the purported vote totals in key states are accurate, or at least more accurate than previously determined. Oh, wait—there is. It’s called a recount. As in counting again. When the tallies are this close between candidates, it’s not only advisable to effect a re-running of the ballots through the machine, but one might argue it should be necessary. If the results in swing states and other close contests are enough to potentially sway the election, shouldn’t it be incumbent upon the powers-that-be in these jurisdictions to revisit the vote counts for the peace of mind of the electorate as well as their own sense of self-respect for wanting to do their jobs correctly? Suppose a county clerk in one of these states went rogue and inserted the ballots of 20,000 dead people and fictional characters for his or her candidate of choice. If Darth Vader and Kylo Ren voted for Donald Trump in Lancaster County, PA (they totally would vote Trump if given the choice, by the way—you know they would), I, as a voter from this area, would want to know as much. From what we know of history, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that local voting officials might try to game the results coming out of their district.

This last scenario speaks to more than just the possibility of error in the processing of people’s ballots, but in line with the idea of something more “nefarious” happening, electoral fraud occurring within the 2016 election. Now, with all due respect, even during the primary season, reports of fraud and voter disenfranchisement were rampant on the Internet and social media. Anecdotally, I observed a number of Bernie Sanders supporters/political conspiracy theorists indiscriminately hurling around accusations that Hillary Clinton’s campaign and its friends in high places were rigging the electoral process in her favor. With yet more due respect, as Wikileaks has helped convey, the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee, and members of the news media were more than a little chummy with one another, and especially on the part of the DNC, deliberately operated and spoke against the Sanders campaign. Within the specific sphere of influence of primary voting, however, a lot of these reports are, if not unfounded, then otherwise unproven. As much as I might be loath to admit it, Hillary Clinton fairly easily outpaced Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party primaries, and even if independent voters were allowed to cast ballots for one of the two in these party primaries (many states did not permit this), Clinton likely still would’ve come out ahead. Of course, we’ll never know for sure what would’ve happened had Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Co. not acted so conspiratorially and/or undeclared voters had been given an authentic voice, but let’s not act as if fraud completely got her the nomination.

With all this in mind, though, let’s also not completely negate the possibility that something underhanded occurred with respect to voting in one or more key regions, and furthermore, that those instrumental in influencing American votes were based outside the United States. While Hillary Clinton and her campaign were awfully quick to throw out the specter of Russia as a deleterious force in our electoral process (that is, while the Russians were likely behind hacks of the Democratic National Committee which led to the Wikileaks DNC E-mail dump, they didn’t coerce the officials represented in those messages to say the disagreeable shit they did), at the same, we shouldn’t consider it impossible that skilled Russian operatives could hack the software used in our voting machines. J. Alex Halderman, professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, recently wrote a piece about this very hypothetical scenario.

As Halderman reasons, Russia has already been asserted by multiple government agencies to be behind hacks of the DNC and the E-mail of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, as well as voter registration systems in Arizona and Illinois, not to mention the vote-counting infrastructure in Ukraine during its 2014 presidential election, almost causing the wrong winner to be announced completely. What’s more, as Prof. Halderman cites, we’ve been able to hack our own machines. Princeton professor Andrew Appel was able to do it with the help of graduate students—Halderman himself being one of them. J. Alex Halderman is reasonably certain he and his own grad students at Michigan could pull off the same caper, and with numerous states reading ballots using machines with severely-outmoded software, lacking the resources or perhaps the urgency to update what they have, the risk is all the more widespread. The solution, as Halderman and election security experts reason, seems counter-intuitively old-fashioned, but nonetheless may yet prove more effective in deterring fraud: checking the paper trail. To quote the Professor:

I know I may sound like a Luddite for saying so, but most election security experts are with me on this: paper ballots are the best available technology for casting votes. We use two main kinds of paper systems in different parts of the U.S. Either voters fill out a ballot paper that gets scanned into a computer for counting (optical scan voting), or they vote on a computer that counts the vote and prints a record on a piece of paper (called a voter-verifiable paper audit trail). Either way, the paper creates a record of the vote that can’t be later modified by any bugs, misconfiguration, or malicious software that might have infected the machines.

After the election, human beings can examine the paper to make sure the results from the voting machines accurately determined who won. Just as you want the brakes in your car to keep working even if the car’s computer goes haywire, accurate vote counts must remain available even if the machines are malfunctioning or attacked. In both cases, common sense tells us we need some kind of physical backup system. I and other election security experts have been advocating for paper ballots for years, and today, about 70% of American voters live in jurisdictions that keep a paper record of every vote.

To interpret what J. Alex Halderman is saying for my own purposes, maybe voting and the necessity of paper ballots is something with which we shouldn’t f**k around. Additionally, maybe—just maybe—we should check these records in the event of an inquiry, because these matters of choosing a president are kind of a big deal.

So, about this whole idea of a recount now. We know where we might opt for to revisit the tallies for each candidate. We know why it might be prudent to go ahead with such an electoral review. We even know who might be hacking our dadgum machines. How do we make a recount reality? Just ask Jill Stein. Wait, the Green Party presidential candidate? One and the same, reader, one and the same. As someone who voted for Stein in the general election knowing full well she wouldn’t win, it’s vaguely amusing to see opinions of her change now that she has been instrumental in fundraising and otherwise spearheading a campaign for a recount in the pivotal states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. For some voters, opinions aren’t really changing, but rather are being formed in the first place, as there’s a good chance they had no idea Jill Stein was the Green Party representative, or a representative for any party, for that matter. For the Democratic Party voters who dismissed Stein as a lightweight candidate and annoyance as a potential spoiler for Hillary Clinton’s hopes to become the United States’ first female President, many are likely regarding her with a newfound sense of appreciation, and at any rate, probably figure it’s the least she could do after taking votes from their candidate.

But about her supporters and those within the Green Party ranks? Daniel Marans, writing for Huffington Post, helps to map out the tangled web of approval and disapproval that has met Jill Stein in her quest for a three-state recount, and concerning the Green Party, Stein’s choice to challenge results in these states and primarily for the benefit of Democrats, at that, has these Green Partiers, ahem, seeing red. So, what’s got Jill’s critics up in arms? Let’s review the charges, if you will:

1. The recount doesn’t help Green Party in its efforts to build and grow.

Right, although this is the beginning of December, the election just happened, and the window to file a recount is tighter than Chris Christie in skinny jeans. One jurisdiction Marans cites in the article that Green Party brass would rather Jill Stein focus on is Texas, where a Green Party candidate almost captured the 5% of the vote to keep the party on the ballot for the 2018 midterm elections in the state. On one hand, I am sympathetic to the cause of Andrea Merida Cuellar, party co-chair, and others who feel this is an important battle to be fought for the sake of the Green Party’s initiatives and values. On the other hand, however, Stein, as the face of the party, is generating publicity for their movement, even if she happens to be “serving the interests” of Democrats in doing so. In the big picture, Stein may be doing more good for third parties than her supporters otherwise might think.

2. There are more pressing issues facing election integrity in this country.

From a purist’s standpoint, yes, there are serious problems facing the electoral process in the United States. As Kevin Zeese, adviser to Jill Stein’s campaign, notes, issues with voter registration and the prevention of people voting are pressing concerns, the kind that tends to get glossed over in the winner-takes-all format of the Electoral College. Still, Zeese and other like-minded critics behave as if these concerns are the likes of which can be quickly resolved, or that by raising support for a recount, these other pursuits will be done irreparable damage. America’s electoral system is indeed riddled with flaws, but they will not be solved overnight, and it is not as if calls for a recount do not expose additional liabilities of individual state systems.

3. If the recount is not done manually, inherent inadequacies of our electoral system will be not exposed.

It seems kind of silly that a “recount” of the balloting in key states would involve anything other than a by-hand review of the tallies for each candidate, but yet that is what is being contemplated in Wisconsin, for one, where a judge ruled that Jill Stein’s campaign could not compel the state’s 72 counties to actually count their ballots, though Daniel Marans’ Huffington Post piece notes that a majority voluntarily obliged anyhow. Otherwise, though, what would suffice as a recount would be merely re-running the votes through the machines and seeing if anything else comes out. Presumably, this could turn a spotlight on any attempts at computer fraud or external hacking, but it still seems just as likely that this would provide little solace or new information. As far as Stein is concerned, though, as with votes for the Green Party, she’ll probably take what she can get.

4. Depending on the level of Democratic Party involvement in the recount, the integrity of the results might be doubtful.

Merely petitioning for a recount, an act which might benefit Democrats, has raised suspicion among Green Party activists. Throw in the fact that Jill Stein’s representation for the sake of the recount in Michigan, Mark Brewer, was once chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, and you can understand from the appearance of things why independents and party supporters might be upset. Especially in the minds of progressives, neither the Democratic Party nor the Republican Party are particularly trustworthy institutions right now. That said, I think a good part of the antipathy to Stein’s mission for multiple recounts is that she apparently decided to crowd-fund and solicit the recount petitions in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin of her own volition—that is, without consulting Green Party leadership. Jill Stein is a bit of a political neophyte still, and it’s very possible she didn’t think she had to let anyone know first. From the gist of Marans’ report, though, Green Party die-hards aren’t real happy with her decision, and this could be the beginning of the end for Stein as the face of the party. It’s never easy to serve in such a role, is it?


bn-rb063_recoun_gr_20161202125814
Michigan’s Attorney General, Republican Bill Schuette, would have you believe politics did not play a role in his decision to follow a suit to stop recount efforts in his state. In other words, Santa Claus is real, and money does, in fact, grow on trees. (Photo Credit: Ryan Garza/TNS/Zuma Press)

At this writing, Wisconsin’s recount is ongoing, though Trump supporters have filed a lawsuit and request for a temporary restraining order in federal court in hopes of bringing it to a stop. Donald Trump’s camp and the Pennsylvania Republican Party have also asked a court to dismiss a recount request in Pennsylvania, where Trump’s lead has shrunk from 1% to 0.8% as some of the final votes in some counties have come in. And in Michigan, a request to prevent a recount was issued by—guess who—Donald Trump supporters, but with the state elections board vote ending in a deadlock, the case will proceed later next week unless a forthcoming court order supersedes this result. The common theme with these individual state recounts, viewed through the lens of opposition to them, obviously is that the Trump campaign and his followers really, really don’t want any recounts to occur. The reason behind this is likewise painfully clear: President-Elect Trump has everything to lose from a challenge to the results of the votes already tabulated, having secured enough electoral votes to garner victory. Bested by more than 2 million votes in the popular vote, and with potentially less than a percentage point separating the winner and loser in valuable swing states, there is sufficient reason for concern on his point. Anytime a candidate fails to win a convincing majority, I feel there should be at least some concern that a recount could produce a materially different outcome.

Jill Stein, for her part, has averred that she is asking for a recount with the best intentions. That is, she only wishes to confirm the integrity of the results—not anticipating a meaningful change in the counts already observed—and is not soliciting a review of the tallied ballots to curry favor with the Democratic Party or anything of that nature. Indeed, even with her penchant for conspiracy-theory-type disbelief of what the mainstream media tells us, she is not the one who has cast the most doubt on the veracity of the American electoral process this cycle. No, in his usual baffling, counterproductive style, it is Donald Trump himself who has cast aspersions on the fidelity of the counts thus recorded. As noted, Trump has everything to lose from challenges to the totals in key states, having captured the win with narrow margins in a few of them.

But, lo, it his losing the popular vote which has truly set him off. The self-centered egotist that he is, Trump has built his legacy on the iconography of being a “winner”—of course, with a healthy heaping of helping from his father, as well as his evident ability to lie, cheat and steal his way to greater fortune—such that winning the presidency is not good enough for him, apparently. Indeed, losing the popular vote has stuck in Mr. Trump’s craw, to the extent he has challenged the results in his own grouping of states, and most reprehensibly, says he would have won if not for the “millions of people who voted illegally.” He’s not saying it directly, but you know he’s saying it in a way for his faithful to interpret in such a way: he’s accusing undocumented immigrants of voting for Hillary Clinton. Non-citizens, as we know, are unable to vote in presidential elections, and to wit, election officials and reporting news media outlets have found no evidence that such widespread fraud occurred in the 2016 election. What’s more, to have millions of people voting illegally for the same candidate suggests collusion on the part of Democrats. It’s believable enough for the crackpots among us, but reckless as f**k otherwise. It’s not like this is the first time we’ve heard this charge from the man, either. Even before Election Day, Donald Trump preemptively insinuated the election would be proven as “rigged” if he lost the state of Pennsylvania. He still might, mind you, but why even invite this allegation for a specific state? To your non-supporters, it only makes you seem more suspicious. What can you say, though? Dude’s worse than a sore loser—he’s a sore winner.

Whatever you call him, insinuations of this sort are a dick move on Trump’s part, as the American people’s flagging confidence in politicians and voting doesn’t need any more grease to help it along a downward path. According to this article by Daniel S. Levine on Heavy.com, an estimated 57.9% of eligible voters voted in the 2016 presidential election. That’s better than half, but still low by international standards. Moreover, according to survey information, even fewer have deep and abiding confidence in the electoral process as a whole. In a Pew Research report authored by researchers Betsy Cooper, Daniel Cox, Rachel Lienesch, and Robert P. Jones and published less than a month before Election Day, 43% of the individuals surveyed said they had great confidence that their vote would be counted accurately, and a significant gap was found between the confidence of intended Clinton voters and Trump supporters—with those riding the Trump Train pulling down the overall average. Donald Trump isn’t just casting a single line in the hopes of eroding public confidence in the electoral process—he’s chumming the water. And a significant portion of Americans, like sharks smelling blood, are eating it up. This would be fine if it were Shark Week, but it’s not, and this country doesn’t need help in fomenting its innermost fears. I mean, if Trump said snakes and spiders were attacking Americans on the regular and thus presented a present danger to the United States, I tend to believe too many of us would have clubs and tissues on hand, ready to bludgeon and squish these creatures in a spirit of bloodlust and wanton destruction. As far as many of us are concerned, it’s a scary time, politically speaking, in this country.

Now that I’ve mentioned sharks and snakes and spiders, you may be dredging up all sorts of personal nightmares, so let’s bring this discussion back to its central thrust. Should we have a recount in crucial swing states? Sure, it couldn’t hurt, and if we are really concerned about pervasive fraud, we should encourage such examinations of the accuracy of the vote, right, Mr. Trump? What does Jill Stein’s involvement in recount efforts mean for the future of the Green Party? I don’t know, but all the pissing and moaning about potentially helping the Democratic Party’s cause seems rather short-sighted. We get it—major parties are not to be trusted—but occasionally, the interests of both parties do coincide, especially when Donald Trump is up to no good. What do we make of Trump’s ranting and raving about millions of people voting illegally? Quite frankly, very little, and once again, it’s upsetting the mainstream media is not more vocal in denouncing his false claims. For an institution like the news media, you would think they would understand the importance of maintaining and bolstering public confidence when they have faced their own difficulties in attracting and keeping customers, but as usual, the lure of short-term ratings numbers are evidently too much to ignore. Finally, where does all this leave us? As with the future of the Green Party, one can’t tell for sure, but one thing is certain: though a winner has been called, the 2016 presidential election is far from over. Unfortunately.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s