Throughout election night, the Clinton campaign comforted themselves with the belief that her “blue wall” would ultimately secure her presidential victory. Then, one by one, to the surprise of just about everyone in America, including the Trump campaign, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin all went red. These are states that not only were polling in Clinton’s favor 24 hours before the election but also hadn’t voted for a Republican since Swatch watches, Jordache jeans and the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers.
Some political analysts and computer programmers are calling foul and begging for a recount. Unfortunately, the political candidate sounding the alarm is Green Party candidate Jill Stein, which might be the peak irony of the 2016 election season.
A loose coalition of journalists, political analysts and computer programmers say that the election of 2016, especially in the “blue wall” states, was influenced by outside hacking. This is not some throwaway storyline from Scandal or even some throwback cold war storyline. Tampering with voting machines has been a serious concern among poll watchers for decades, with books like Black Box Voting detailing how easy it is to tamper with election results in what are often antiquated and poorly monitored machines.
In Georgia, for example, many districts’ voting machines are still running on Windows 2000, a system so antiquated that it would be almost impossible to decipher if a system were hacked or simply malfunctioned. As early as this spring, the Department of Homeland Security was offering assistance to states that they deemed potential targets for hacking by foreign or domestic agents.
Parts of Georgia, Pennsylvania and other competitive states from the election season don’t have universal paper trails for voting machines, which makes recounts almost impossible and hacking much harder to detect. Given that the Russians were all but directly managing the campaign of Donald Trump, and that Vladimir Putin had a vested interest in a Trump presidency, it’s not unreasonable for some concerned citizens to want to check under the hood for what happened in three very reliable blue states.
However, there are two very real, much more obvious problems that should be addressed before cracking open a bunch of dusty, old vote-counting Teletraan Ones—one legal and the other political.
Trump’s margin of victory in the state of Wisconsin is 0.7 percent; in Michigan it’s 0.3 percent, and in Pennsylvania it’s a measly 1.2 percent. In other words, these are margins small enough to trigger automatic recounts in most cases. However, a legal fight over the overall voting rights in those states might be just as good an idea as digging through voting machines.
In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker purged over 300,000 likely Democratic voters from the rolls. When this purge was overturned by the courts, the state of Wisconsin was required to provide free IDs to those areas most likely affected by their new voting laws. They didn’t. The result was the lowest voter turnout in Wisconsin in over 20 years, a 13 percent drop in metro Milwaukee, where over 70 percent of the population is African American and where Trump won the state by only 27,000 votes. If you want to assess the integrity of the elections, you need look no further than the glacially slow pace at which voter-suppression practices can be overturned; no need to look for Russian hackers under the covers.
Which brings us to the next irony of this call for an examination of votes in these critical battleground states. Why is this effort being led by Jill Stein and not Hillary Clinton? Many on the left would argue that this is typical Democratic behavior, not standing up to the GOP’s dirty tricks, like Al Gore folding in 2000 or John Kerry declining to wait out Ohio absentee ballots in 2004. As of this writing, Clinton is now 2 million votes ahead of Trump in the popular vote. The total margin of Trump’s victories in the “blue wall” states—12,000 (Michigan), 27,000 (Wisconsin) and 68,000 (Pennsylvania)—is roughly the size of a well-attended football game at the University of Michigan, certainly worth looking into. Perhaps Clinton wants to “go high while Trump goes low,” or maybe she feels she can’t make up those margins in the states; perhaps we’ll never know.
What is less difficult to determine is why Stein is involved in this process. If she is really concerned about a Trump presidency, she’s a little late to the game. Had Stein not been on the ballot, it’s likely her voters would have gone to Clinton. That alone would have been the margin in all three states. Stein knows that she won’t win any more votes in most of these states, and voter integrity has never been her cause célèbre. It is, in all likelihood, a cash grab by the Stein campaign, since she is attempting to raise money off of running vote analysis and recounts in each of these states. Anyone foolish enough to give her that money deserves everything they’ve got coming to them from the Trump regime.
It will likely take months to figure out exactly why Trump won, why Clinton lost and what role various forms of electoral malfeasance by Republicans played in that outcome. In the meantime, political leaders will grasp at straws and random theories to explain what happened. While Russian or domestic hacking in three important states is possible, there are much easier and more pervasive explanations, like voter suppression, that Democrats or voting-integrity experts should be focused on. In fact, if they had been more aggressive about those problems before Nov. 9, none of these calls for investigation would have been necessary.
Jason Johnson, political editor at The Root, is a professor of political science at Morgan State’s School of Global Journalism and Communication and is a frequent guest on MSNBC, CNN, Al-Jazeera International, Fox Business News and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Follow him on Twitter.