University of Michigan computer science professor Alex Halderman and his team of graduate students demonstrated in 2010 that it’s possible for a few hackers to quickly manipulate online voting systems. Credit: Courtesy of Alex Halderman

A team of activists is urging Hillary Clinton to challenge election results in three key swing states, according to a report published today in New York magazine.

The team members, which reportedly includes civil rights lawyer John Bonifaz and University of Michigan computer science professor Alex Halderman, say they’ve discovered evidence that votes were hacked or manipulated in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, according to New York magazine’s report. In Wisconsin, Clinton appears to have received a lower percentage of votes in counties that relied solely on electronic voting machines – a discrepancy that could have cost her as many as 30,000 votes and the state itself.

Without more detail, it’s impossible to judge the team’s claims. But one thing is clear: Halderman is credible and trusted among his peers.

He has a history of demonstrating how voting technologies – in Washington, D.C.; Estonia; and Australia, to name a few – are less secure than authorities hope.

In Washington, he and a team of students hacked the city’s pilot internet voting system in less than 24 hours, altering ballots and spying on voters. The team left a calling card: When voters cast their ballots online, the computer played the University of Michigan’s fight song, as our recent story on election hacking showed.

“Halderman is very credible, and if he says there are anomalies that deserve investigation, they should be investigated,” Rick Hasen, a law and political science professor at the University of California, Irvine, wrote on his Election Law Blog.

Since President-elect Donald Trump began publicly decrying the possibility of a rigged election in campaign rallies and on Twitter this fall, experts have been quick to point out how difficult it would be to launch a large-scale hack of America’s voting infrastructure. Across the country, more than 9,000 jurisdictions are free to adopt their own voting practices and technologies. Such a patchwork, they say, is nearly impossible to target head on.

“While no system is 100 percent hackproof, elections in this country are secure – perhaps as secure as they’ve ever been,” David Becker, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Election Innovation & Research, said at a House hearing in September. “To manipulate election results on a state or national scale would require a conspiracy of literally hundreds of thousands, and for that massive conspiracy to go undetected.”

But Halderman disagrees.

“Becker is wrong,” he said in an email earlier this month. “Even though the machines aren’t connected to the Internet, their software can potentially be attacked through a stuxnet-style attack that spreads via the memory cards that are used to load the ballot design.”

“This is more complicated than attacking an online voting system that is directly connected to the Internet,” he added. “But it’s within the capabilities of nation-state attackers, and it would not require a large conspiracy.”

Data analysts Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight and Nate Cohn of The New York Times immediately threw cold water on the idea of a possible hack, saying their quick analyses showed no discrepancies.

New York magazine’s report comes shortly after Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called on Congress to investigate whether Russia interfered with this year’s presidential contest through a cyberattack on the Democratic National Committee’s email servers.

“We cannot sit on the sidelines as a party and let allegations against a foreign government interfering in our election process go unanswered because it may have been beneficial to our cause,” Graham said.

If the Clinton camp decides to move forward, they may not have much time to do so, according to New York magazine: “According to one of the activists, the deadline in Wisconsin to file for a recount is Friday; in Pennsylvania, it’s Monday; and Michigan is next Wednesday.”

Update: In a Medium post published late Tuesday night, Halderman attempted to “set the record straight,” elaborating on the arguments he’s made thus far to Hillary Clinton’s camp.

“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,” he wrote.

He also reaffirmed his position that America’s electronic voting infrastructure is vulnerable. The only surefire way to guarantee an election’s integrity, he added, is a paper audit.

“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,” he wrote. “It will also set a precedent for routinely examining paper ballots, which will provide an important deterrent against cyberattacks on future elections.”

Byard Duncan can be reached at bduncan@revealnews.org. Follow him on Twitter: @ByardDuncan.

Byard Duncan is a reporter and producer for  engagement and collaborations for Reveal. He manages Reveal’s Reporting Networks, which provide more than 1,000 local journalists across the U.S. with resources and training to continue Reveal investigations in their communities. He also helps lead audience engagement initiatives around Reveal’s stories and assists local reporters in elevating their work to a national platform. In addition to Reveal, Duncan’s work has appeared in GQ, Esquire, The California Sunday Magazine and Columbia Journalism Review, among other outlets. He was part of Reveal’s Behind the Smiles project team, which was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2019. He is the recipient of two Edward R. Murrow Awards, a National Headliner Award, an Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, and two first-place awards for feature storytelling from the Society of Professional Journalists and Best of the West. Duncan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.