Fouad ElBayly

SOMERSET – Efforts to recount the presidential vote in Pennsylvania and other key swing states, spearheaded by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, have spread to Somerset County.

Three Friedens residents, alleging that voting machines may have been “hacked or tampered with,” filed petitions Monday to recount the vote in the Somerset Township No. 2 precinct.

Fouad El Bayly, Patricia El Bayly and Darleen Monroe, all of whom voted in that precinct on Nov. 8, stated that they “believe that an error ... has been committed in the vote in this district.”

Fouad El Bayly said that he and Patricia El Bayly, his wife, filed petitions because they “felt like the election was very close” and because defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton received more votes than President-elect Donald Trump. They want to make sure the democratic process is respected, he added.

Patricia El Bayly said she was contacted by members of Stein’s team after she donated to Stein’s campaign to fund a vote recount. When they asked if she would be willing to petition her local board of elections for a recount, she agreed, she said.

The petitioners claimed that the result of the vote is erroneous based in part on an affidavit by University of Michigan computer science professor J. Alex Halderman. The affidavit “raises grave concerns about the integrity of (direct-recording electronic) voting machines used in this district,” according to each of the three petitions.

Somerset County Solicitor Dan Rullo said the petitions were filed with the Board of Elections on Monday – which, according to Rullo, may have been too late for the petitioners to achieve their stated goal, since the vote results in Somerset County were certified on Nov. 18.

Shirley Crowl, director of Cambria County’s elections office, said Tuesday that she had not received any recount petitions. Crowl’s office certified county election results on Nov. 21, so the five-day period in which petitioners can request recounts has already closed.

Tina Pritts, Somerset County’s elections director, was out of the office Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro A. Cortes said on Oct. 20 that Pennsylvania’s voting machines are secure, calling claims otherwise “not only wrong and uninformed” but also “dangerous.”

Halderman, whose affidavit was attached to each of the three petitions, is urging Clinton to call for a recount in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, according to a report published Sunday by The Michigan Daily. President-elect Donald Trump defeated Clinton in all three of those states in the election.

Halderman’s affidavit does not directly allege that the Nov. 8 vote itself was subject to hacking. In fact, Halderman said he doubts that Trump’s victory was due to fraud.

“Were this year’s deviations from pre-election polls the results of a cyberattack? Probably not,” Halderman wrote in a Nov. 23 blog post. “I believe the most likely explanation is that the polls were systematically wrong, rather than that the election was hacked.”

However, he argued, the possibility of a cyberattack remains open and can only be eliminated by “closely examin(ing) the available physical evidence – paper ballots and voting equipment in critical states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.”

In his affidavit, Halderman argues for a recount based on hacks of high-ranking Democratic Party officials’ emails and of voter registration systems in Illinois and Arizona. The Department of Homeland Security has stated that Russian officials commissioned these hacks, the affidavit says.

According to the affidavit, these hacks help prove that “Russia has sophisticated cyber-offensive capabilities” and “a willingness to use them to hack elections elsewhere.”

The affidavit lays out a hypothetical scenario in which attackers working for a foreign government might “probe election offices ... to find ways to break into the computers,” then “spread malware into voting machines” in key swing states, “manipulating the machines to shift a few percent of the vote to favor their desired candidate.”

Although Pennsylvania’s voting machines are not connected to the internet, the affidavit said that poll workers copy the ballot design from a regular desktop computer – which is vulnerable to hacking, the affidavit said – and load it onto each machine.

Stein cited similar concerns when she launched a campaign to fund efforts to have the vote recounted in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Although the Clinton campaign “had not uncovered any actionable evidence of hacking or outside attempts to alter the voting technology,” Clinton’s team plans to “participate” in Stein’s recount efforts, according to a blog post by Marc Elias, the campaign’s general counsel.

Lawrence Otter, a Stein campaign lawyer, announced Monday that he had filed a lawsuit for a statewide recount of the presidential election results, according to POLITICO.com

However, according to POLITICO.com, “the Stein campaign must sufficiently prove that there was a strong probability of election fraud in Pennsylvania” to force a recount. Thus, Stein is also asking voters around Pennsylvania to call upon local authorities to recount the vote.

That effort may be hampered by the fact that, according to a Pennsylvania Department of State statement that was quoted in a POLITICO article, results were certified more than five days ago in many counties statewide.

Mark Pesto is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkPesto.

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