Did Russians Hack US Voting Machines? Nobody Knows.
US authorities say they have no evidence — but experts say there’s been no investigation. The truth is that no one knows, and claiming it didn’t happen is just as misleading as claiming it did.
This morning on Twitter, journalist Adam H. Johnson took issue with a New York Times reference to Russia “hacking” the 2016 election. Johnson called the phrase misleading, claiming it “gives readers the impression voting machines were hacked.” He then cited an Economist/YouGov poll that showed more than half of Democrats believe Russians tampered with voting machines, the implication being that this was incorrect information.
It is not, as far as anyone knows.
I disagreed with Johnson in brief exchange, reminding him that US intelligence sources say Russian hackers accessed desktop computers at Boards of Election in 39 US states. Johnson responded that this is merely an allegation (which is true — but then so is everything we “know” about Russian tampering in the 2016 election) and that Boards of Election do not impact vote totals. This latter is factually incorrect — more on that shortly.
When I pushed, Johnson repeated the oft-cited refrain that US intelligence sources “have no evidence” Russians tampered with voting totals. This is a true fact, but it is utterly meaningless, because computer science experts agree that no investigation has taken place that might have turned up such evidence.
Johnson is a quality journalist who I hold in high regard; my intent is not to pick on him personally. My complaint is that journalists in the US, as a community, have grossly misrepresented our understanding of Russian influence on the 2016 election. The truth is, no one knows whether hackers, Russian or otherwise, tampered with voting machines.
Prior to the 2016 election, computer scientists raised alarms about the vulnerability of US voting machines to hacking. Popular understanding of computer science is lacking, unfortunately, so many journalists and politicians incorrectly believe that a voting machine is safe when it is not, itself, connected to the Internet.