For Immediate Release: Monday, December 12, 2016
New York Times: Recount Rules ‘Arcane and Confusing,’ a ‘Political Horror Show’
As Doubt Over Security, Accuracy of Election Mounts, President Orders ‘Full Review’ of Hacking
(Philadelphia, PA) – The Stein campaign today said it was disappointed in a federal court ruling Monday morning blocking a statewide hand recount and forensic audit of Pennsylvania’s error-prone electronic voting machines, effectively disenfranchising millions of Pennsylvanian voters, especially communities of color. The decision by U.S. District Judge Paul Diamond follows a lawsuit filed by the Stein campaign that read: “[The state’s] incomprehensible, labyrinth, and impossibly burdensome election regime is a disaster for ordinary voters. Were Pennsylvania votes counted accurately? That truth is not difficult to learn: simply count the paper ballots in optical scan districts, and permit forensic examination of the voting systems in [touch-screen] districts.”
“Pennsylvania’s election system is stacked against voters. Both the technology by which voters cast ballots, as well as the byzantine and burdensome laws determining recounts in the state, are a national disgrace,” said Jill Stein, 2016 Green Party candidate for president. “The process underway in Pennsylvania this week is hardly an effective or comprehensive recount. Despite citizens across this state stepping up and demanding their right to verify the vote, every obstacle imaginable – legal, bureaucratic and political – has been thrown in their face. Pennsylvanians’ constitutional and civil rights to have their voices heard and their votes counted have been stripped from right under them.”
On Friday, President Obama took the extraordinary step to order a “full review” of hacking-related activity aimed at disrupting the 2016 presidential election, amid increasing doubt over the security, accuracy and fairness of the U.S. election system. The announcement is yet the latest indication of the public’s lack of trust in the voting election system, and a sign that the irregularities that have already been discovered during recounts in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – called a “political horror show” in the New York Times today – underscore the need for reform of the election system.
“The recounts have begun to expose a modern-day electoral Jim Crow,” said Stein. “Counting the ballots has raised even more questions about the vulnerability of voting technology, the improper handling of ballots, and quality of election administration. By blocking the recount and suppressing exposure of these problems, Donald Trump and his allies in Pennsylvania are not just perpetuating, but also actively defending the disenfranchisement of people of color.”
Approximately two-thirds of voting in Pennsylvania is done through Direct Record Electronic (DRE) touch-screen machines, which are susceptible to manipulation and hacking. In fact, many states have banned or are phasing out the use of DRE touch-screen machines over security concerns. Worse, the machines do not dispense any paper ballot or receipt – leaving no evidence of the voting trail – something one election expert called a “nightmare scenario.” As a result, the only way to conduct a full, foolproof audit is through a “forensic analysis” – where cyber-security experts and computer scientists go into the black box of DRE machines and look for malware, bugs or manipulated software or files. But local courts in Pennsylvania have repeatedly denied Stein campaign requests for such an analysis.
The remaining one-third of voting in Pennsylvania is done through optical scan ballots, which are also vulnerable to problems and errors. Computer scientists regularly warn about the vulnerabilities of these machines, including that they can be breached without detection and are prone to errors, including a tendency to misread markings made by voters. In Detroit alone, 87 optical scan machines broke on Election Day this year. Substantial research, including a U.S. Civil Rights Commission report, finds that voters of color are at massively increased risk of having their votes misread or simply tossed out by badly maintained and poorly calibrated scanning machines in underserved communities.
“America’s voting machines and optical scanners are prone to errors and susceptible to outside manipulation,” said J. Alex Halderman, one of the nation’s leading cyber security experts and a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Michigan, who attended the federal court hearing in Philadelphia Friday. “That’s precisely why we need this recount – to examine the physical evidence, to look under the hood. A recount is the best way, and indeed the only way in 2016, to ensure public confidence that the results are accurate, authentic, and untainted by outside interference.”
In addition to a vulnerable voting process, Pennsylvania has one of the worst recount laws in the nation, requiring a bottom-up process in which voters across the state must bring official, notarized petitions to county boards, in time for shifting, divergent and secret deadlines known. Under Pennsylvania law, more than 27,000 voters in 9,000-plus districts are required to submit a request for a recount before a statewide count can begin. In 2016, concerned voters filed more than 950 recount petitions in nearly 320 election districts in Philadelphia, Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Centre, Montgomery, and other counties.
Donald Trump and GOP allies, however, have used Pennsylvania’s decentralized and bureaucratic election system to suppress the recount. After news broke last week that Donald Trump’s lead in the state fell from roughly 70,000 to 49,000 votes, within 0.3% of triggering an automatic statewide recount, the Trump campaign filed a legal objection in state court, claiming that following through with the recount would somehow “put Pennsylvania at grave risk.”
Pennsylvania voter Susan Finn, a 43-year-old mother of three who is a registered Independent, was among those in the state who submitted a recount petition as required by law. She petitioned because she’s unsure that her vote – which she cast on a touch-screen DRE machine, after Board of Elections officials wrote her name into the rolls manually because her official change to her married name failed to register – was counted. After Mr. Trump’s lawyers argued in court against the recount, a Montgomery County judge ruled on Nov. 30 that the recount would not move forward in her precinct.
“I am outraged that Mr. Trump and allies are trying to deny us our constitutional rights and stop voters’ voices from being heard,” said Mrs. Finn. “I petitioned for a recount because my experience voting in Pennsylvania was a mess, filled with bureaucratic roadblocks that made it difficult for me to know, without a doubt, that my vote was counted. I will keep fighting to ensure it did. If Mr. Trump is as patriotic as he says he is, he needs to respect every American’s right to a fair and transparent election.”
Lawyers for the Republican Party have crisscrossed the state to fight recounts in courthouses from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. In Montgomery County, for example, Republican lawyers alleged that several voters could not file their recount affidavits because they allegedly failed to pay a “required” $50 court filing fee, even though they paid almost double that fee. Trump’s surrogates have argued that it requires 27,000 voters in all the state’s 9,000+ precincts to request a recount, in order for the voters in any single precinct to be recounted.
In one instance, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court demanded that 100-plus voters who petitioned for a statewide recount pay $1 million total to be able to move forward with their case. Citing the extraordinary financial burden that the state was putting on ordinary residents, the petitioners were forced to withdraw their case. The legal filing in response read simply: “Petitioners are regular citizens of ordinary means. They cannot afford to post the $1,000,000 bond required by the Court.”
“Pennsylvania places absurd and unacceptable barriers to democratic participation,” said Ilann Maazel, a lawyer for the Stein campaign.“Voters don’t know if their votes count, and there is no way for them to find out. We can’t hide democracy inside a black box.”
While recounts in some counties have proceeded, experts say that the chosen method – simply re-canvassing voting machines, rather than hand counting paper ballots or examining the software of electronic machines – is insufficient to guarantee the accuracy and security of the voting system. In Philadelphia, for example, the Elections Commission approved a recount in only 75 of nearly 1,700 precincts – but the Commission denied a full forensic audit of the voting machines, opting instead to simply run the ballots back through the machines.