Omniscient Alexa?

Jake Stenquist, Abigail Gurgiolo, Cameron Chertavian


You walk into your kitchen after a long day at work, grab a cold beer, and sit down to tell your significant other how much you hate your boss. Recorded. In another situation, you argue with your child about their report card that came back full of C’s. Recorded.

One may guess that these conversations were taped from microphones discreetly hidden in the corners of a room, and the government decided to bug your house. The true source, however, is sitting in plain sight on your kitchen counter.  Plugged into the wall, standing at roughly nine inches tall, the device waits for the owner to say her name and then give any number of simple commands. This is the new Christmas hot-seller, Echo by Amazon, or as others simply call it, Alexa. It could also be any number of in-home mechanical assistants dominating the tech market today, from Google’s new Google Home to the phone-based personal assistant Cortana.

From ordering products on the internet, to reporting the weather and traffic for the day, to telling you the date and time of the Super Bowl, devices like Alexa are omniscient. Only a trigger word prompts a response, but the nature of the device makes you wonder: is it every truly off?

Many know the famous quote uttered from Uncle Ben of Spider-Man: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Mechanical personal assistants have been given the great power of hearing every conversation spoken in the houses of their owners, but have companies like Amazon and Google handled the responsibilities that come along with this new treasure trove of audio and metadata correctly? Should homeowners completely trust this device?

In this blog post, we are going to discuss the pros and cons of in-home mechanical assistants, and help weigh in on the trade-off between the convenient personal assistants provide with the potential pitfalls it can bring along with it.


The advantages of owning an in-home mechanical assistant (which in the spirit of one device will from hereon be referred to as Alexa) are initially very simple, but have much expansive benefits as the devices are developed more, and allowed more access to everyday conversation.

On a basic level, Alexa can perform tasks such as playing music, checking the news or weather, or recording a grocery list. Recently, a new feature has been created that fact checks politicians for the user,[1] showing how Alexa can be used for more meaningful purposes then turning on music. This also showcases another unique aspect of these devices: all of them are created with open-source material that allows outside developers to create applets usable by the device. Amazon’s and Google’s unique decision to let in outside developers means that Alexa’s potential is not limited by paid developers themselves, hopefully allowing for a wide breadth of creative purposes.

Similarly to a Fitbit, Alexa can be used to collect metadata that can be vital to the understanding of one’s own life. Currently, there are only limited ways to understand metadata produced from Alexa. Google is a pioneer in this field, allowing the viewing of queries and data collected by visiting the website’s My Activity page.[1] If a user were to tabulate this data, or (more effectively) the companies themselves prevented this data to the user in an accessible manner, the user could gain important insight into everything from their purchasing habits, when they turn on various devices, and even when they like to listen to certain kind of music.

It should also be noted that Alexa can be used in more serious situations. For example, these devices are beginning to enter nursing homes and assisted living situations. On a basic level they would be used to do tasks the user cannot, but the devices have also been co-opted to detect if the user is safe and healthy, using high-frequency ultrasound waves in a manner similar to echolocation.[2] In these cases, Alexa can not only help out the user, but possibly detect if the user is sick or having a medical emergency, and alert the correct personnel.



Some people would argue that if you don’t want your interactions with Alexa recorded, then you simply shouldn’t buy or use the bot. Seemingly, by purchasing and using the technology, you’re agreeing to the terms and conditions – which include the recording and uploading of the questions you ask Alexa. However, recently it’s come to light that not only are the things you ask and the responses it gives recorded, but also bits of conversations before or after you interact with the device are as well.[3]

This issue is not specific to Alexa, but applies to all home assistant devices. It’s a valid argument that companies have a right to know how their products are being utilized, in order to improve their quality, but it is often difficult for consumers to determine exactly how much of their data is being gathered and analyzed. Consumers are becoming wary about losing privacy in their own homes if they choose to use these types of devices, and recent criminal cases have done nothing to reassure them.[4]

While companies who sell these items claim that they are “designed with privacy and security as part of the design,” privacy settings aren’t automatic – owners have to manually mute their devices to prevent them from recording when not in use.[5] Similarly, it is difficult to delete the data once it has been uploaded to the cloud. Consumers can erase individual entries online, a time-consuming process especially for frequent users who generate a large number of entries quickly.

[1] Moynihan, Tim. “Alexa and Google Home Record What You Say. But What Happens to That Data?” Wired. Conde Nast, 05 Dec. 2016. Web. 01 Mar. 2017

[2] Metz, Rachel. “Home Assistants like Amazon Echo Could Be a Boon for Assisted Living.” MIT Technology Review. MIT Technology Review, 28 Feb. 2017. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.

[3] Bischoff, Paul. “NewsFactor Network.” NewsFactor Network RSS. N.p., 9 Jan. 2017. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.

[4] Buhr, Sarah. “An Amazon Echo May Be the Key to Solving a Murder case.” TechCrunch. TechCrunch, 27 Dec. 2016. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.

[5] Baral, Susmita. “Amazon Echo Privacy: Is Alexa Listening to Everything You Say?” Mic. Mic Network Inc., 20 Dec. 2016. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.

[1] Fingas, Jon. “Amazon Echo Now Fact-checks Politicians.” Engadget. N.p., 23 Oct. 2016. Web. 01 Mar. 2017


Should the government have access to its citizens’ data?


The role of the federal government in public privacy has been contentious since the explosion of digital data in the last few decades. A conservative position would argue against the intrusion of big government in the personal information of its citizens. A liberal argument might insist that the government should be trusted with access and use of big data. Both can agree that the safety of the citizens should be a priority, but a glaring question remains: at what point should the government have full access to citizens’ data in an attempt to keep them safe?

The 2015 attack in San Bernardino raised one such issue. The government, seeking to prove Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik’s guilt, asked Apple to unlock a cell phone. The FBI took Apple to court, arguing that public safety required Apple to allow the government to access the assailants’ data. The question posed is the major question in the government access debate: should the government be able to use Farook and Malik’s private information in a court of law? In the end, the court ruled that Apple did not have to allow the FBI to enter the iPhone, but Apple must disable the data erasure feature – when ten failed attempts at entering a passcode erases the phone’s entire data storage. The FBI eventually hacked into the phone without Apple’s assistance, and no legal issues arose from the government’s actions.[1]

So in this article, we will address the possible benefits and possible concerns with allowing the federal government to access citizens’ data. The San Bernardino iPhone example is just one example of government efforts to use personal data with hopes of keeping the American people safe. Former Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson aptly described the issues of data and privacy in 1949, arguing, “The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that… [the Court] will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.”[2] Should the government have access to big data or does more access mean an infringement on the liberties guaranteed by our Constitution?


In the last twenty years, information and communication technologies (ICTs) have become prevalent in cities, transforming them into ‘smart cities.’[1] Big businesses, such as IBM, Oracle, Siemens and Microsoft, have encouraged the development of these cities since it would favor the use of their products. Additionally, governments view these ‘smart cities’ as progressive since they are hypothetically more secure, functional and sustainable.[2] For example, Philadelphia estimates that it is saving $1 million every year from sensors in trashbins that can indicate when the bin is full and thus, reduce the number of collections required.[3] In order to maintain this smart urbanism, governments and businesses must collect masses of data on its citizens. Thus, for the good of society, citizens are giving up some of their privacy: there is a tradeoff.

Moreover, governments may also use big data to understand how citizens, faced with new policies and services, behave. Indeed, through social media, for example, governments can collect information and improve its policies to fit to citizens’ needs and preferences.[4] For example, the U.K. government has been examining how forthcoming policy changes are being received by citizens through social media. Although this has the potential for governments to tailor their policies, it appears that they have not taken advantage of this tool yet.[5] If governments were to capitalize on data, however, this could be extremely beneficial to citizens.

Finally, in recent years, governments have brought up the idea of using big data in order to prevent terrorist attacks. In 2016, prior to planting bombs in New York and New Jersey, Ahmad Khan Rahami bought bomb-making materials on Ebay through his public social media account.[6] Some reports have even suggested that Rahami could have bought bombs as early as June.[7] Had the government been aware of these purchases, it might have avoided these attacks. In 2016, William Roper, then the director of the Defense Department’s strategic capabilities office, claimed that “data is going to be the fundamental fuel for national security in this century.”[8] Although the technology to predict crime based on big data is not ready yet, it may prove essential in the future as the political and social climate grows more hostile.





Although there are benefits to allowing the US government to access its citizens data, such as securing cities from domestic and national terrorist threats, doing so sets a dangerous precedent. The Snowden leaks exposed many NSA surveillance programs responsible for intercepting internet and phone data, and in response, many large companies began putting extra effort into creating high-tech privacy software meant to keep their customers’ data safe.[9][10] Part of the reason why individual privacy and security became so important so quickly is the extent to which the NSA was monitoring US citizens. The NSA’s criteria for establishing the breadth of their surveillance begins with an individual or group under suspicion of committing a dangerous crime. From there, the NSA establishes three degrees of contact to monitor as well. This basically means that the original suspect can be monitored, their immediate circle of contacts can be monitored, each of those individuals’ contacts can be monitored, and finally, each of those individual’s contacts can as well. In summary, “the NSA . . . can, without warrant, put under surveillance all 2,669,556 potential connections [to three degrees of separation].”[11] Snowden revealed that the breadth of the government’s surveillance is massive and any individual may be monitored without them knowing it, and as a result, citizens’ became worried about the privacy of their personal lives. The notion that the government is watching your every move is terrifying even if you have nothing to hide. Everybody has their own personal secrets, and therefore, any perceived lack of privacy can be scary.

In a more recent example involving a case between Apple and the FBI, Apple refused to aid the FBI in their investigation of the San Bernardino terrorists by unlocking a phone found at the crime scene. Apple pointed out many reasons for why openly allowing the United States to access or hack into citizens’ personal devices has both unethical and dangerous consequences. First and foremost, the 4th Amendment of the US Constitution prevents the government from conducting “unreasonable searches.” While this example may seem like a reasonable event warranting a search, where should the line be drawn between protecting national security versus citizens’ individual rights? It is a difficult line to draw, but had the FBI won this case, they would have been granted the first step in their ability to gain access to more and more phones, thus attacking privacy further and further. Additionally, Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, made a claim that in hacking into encrypted data to protect citizens, Americans may actually be left more vulnerable. Once a means to access protected phones is discovered, others with more diabolical intentions will be able to find it as well, which establishes even more risk to American privacy.[12] The idea of civil liberty has been an important right of American citizens since the nation’s founding, and it must be protected even as the government in this digital world seeks increased access to individual’s information through the internet, phones, and other forms of technology.





Although it is used in an incorrect context, many advocates for the right to privacy use a quote written by Benjamin Franklin, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”[13] The quote may have been taken out of context; however, the advocates do have a point. Considering parts of the US Constitution, especially the 4th amendment, the founding fathers seemed to have believed in the right to privacy despite the lack of explicit statement. On the other hand, we must consider the fact that times have changed since the 18th century. Much more damage can be caused to civilian populations now. As mentioned above, bombs can be planted in populated areas in modern times. Dynamite wasn’t invented until almost a century after the Constitution came into place. Both sides are making good points. Disasters can be limited by having analyzing data of soon-to-be-disasters. However, society could go down the slippery slope to the world described by Orwell’s 1984. Hopefully, optimization can occur, and we can gain the much safety with minimal abuse of the right to privacy.




























Works Cited:


Jackson, Robert. Terminiello v. Chicago quoted by Scott E. Sundby in “Everyman’s Fourth Amendment: Privacy or Mutual Trust between Government and Citizen.” Columbia Law Review 94 (1994): 1751-1812.

Nakashima, Ellen. “Apple vows to resist FBI demand to crack iPhone linked to San Bernardino attacks.” The Washington Post, February 17, 2016. Accessed February 15, 2017. b903ee-d4d9-11e5-9823-02b905009f99_story.html?utm_term=.e3d6eac3818a


[1] Kitchin, Rob. (2013) The real-time city? Big data and smart urbanism. GeoJournal, doi: 10.1007/s10708-013-9516-8

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ben Ahmed, Kaoutar et al. (2014) Age of Big Data and Smart Cities: Privacy Trade-Off. IJETT

[4] Clarke, Amanda and Helen Margetts. (2014) Governments and Citizens Getting to Know Each Other? Open, Closed, and Big Data in Public Management Reform. P&I, doi:10.1002/1944-2866.POI377

[5] Ibid.

[6] Chris Strohm, “Predicting Terrorism from Big Data Challenges U.S. Intelligence,” Bloomberg Technology, October 13, 2016, accessed February 15, 2017

[7] Keegan Hamilton, “Ahmad Khan Rahami bought his bomb parts on eBay, FBI says,” Vice News, September 21, 2016, accessed February 15, 2017.

[8] Chris Strohm, “Predicting Terrorism from Big Data Challenges U.S. Intelligence,” Bloomberg Technology, October 13, 2016, accessed February 15, 2017

[9] Bauman, Zygmunt et al. (2014) After Snowden: Rethinking the Impact of Surveillance. International Political Sociology, doi: 10.1111/ips.12048

[10] Etzioni, A. J Bus Ethics (2016). doi:10.1007/s10551-016-3233-4

[11] Bauman.

[12] Etzioni.

[13] Siegel, Robert, “Ben Franklin’s Famous ‘Liberty, Safety’ Quote Lost Its Context In 21st Century” NPR, March 2nd, 2015, Accessed February 15th, 2017



[1] Ellen Nakashima, “Apple vows to resist FBI demand to crack iPhone linked to San Bernardino attacks,” The Washington Post, February 17, 2016, accessed February 15, 2017.

[2] Robert Jackson, Terminiello v. Chicago in “Everyman’s Fourth Amendment: Privacy or Mutual Trust between Government and Citizen,” by Scott E. Sundby, Columbia Law Review 94 (1994): 1808.

Corporate Hacking

Evan, Ellen, Andrew, Lillian



When it comes to protecting ourselves as individuals from cyberattacks, regardless of how diligent and proactive any one of us may be, much of our cybersecurity will always rest in the hands of corporations. Corporate entities store gigabytes upon gigabytes of our personal information and provide such necessities as electricity or running water. A well-executed cyberattack against a corporation can threaten any one of these things. This blog post will explore the intersection of corporations and cybersecurity by examining the history of hacking and corporate hacks, what can and is being done to protect consumers, how hackers can threaten critical infrastructure by targeting corporations, and what the future of corporate hacking looks like.

History of Hacking

Programmers began “hacking” in the 1960s to develop “shortcuts” aimed at improving the operation of computer systems, especially by reducing run times and amending inaccuracies in their programs. At that time, the verb “to hack” entailed something entirely different than what it involves today.[i]

The first conception of hacking as it is known today arrived towards the end of the 20th century. In the 1970s, John Draper invented the “blue box,” a device that allowed him to access long distance phone calls illegally. Also in the 1970s, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs learned the art of “phreaking,” or hacking into telecommunication systems. In the 1980s, the largest European association of hackers was formed, known as The Chaos Computer Club.[ii] Around this time hacking, as we understand it today, started to become an issue. In response, the United States government passed the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in 1986.[iii]

Two years after the law was passed, two important developments occurred. First, Kevin Poulsen hacked a federal computer network. Then, in the same year, Robert Morris developed what was called the “Morris Worm,” which was the first computer worm to infect the Internet. This self-propagating virus spread so aggressively that it succeeded in closing down much of the Internet for a period of time. The early nuisance attacks that followed kicked off the struggle we are familiar with today: companies now had to deal with and respond to cybersecurity attacks. This back and forth ultimately led to the birth of the cybersecurity industry, including the establishment of CERTs (Computer Emergency Response Teams) as a central actor for coordinating responses to cyber emergencies. The initial reaction from the industry was ‘prevention is better than a cure’, giving rise to preventative and detective security products.[iv]

In 1994, Vladimir Levin accesses the accounts of Citibank’s customers and stole around $10 million.[v] From then on, we have seen a proliferation in the number of corporate hacks affecting both consumers and sellers (please see Table 1).

Corporate hacking in the 21st century includes the theft of many different pieces of private and vital information belonging to citizens and noncitizens alike. Social security numbers and credit card information have especially been at risk. Small and large corporations alike have fallen prey to cyberattacks, including Sony, Target, and JPMorgan. The effect has almost always been a drop in share prices and the loss of consumer confidence.[vi] We now live in a world where consumers’ information is always at risk.


[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.





Protecting Consumers

Given the recent hacks at major corporations like Yahoo and Sony, it is not surprising that companies are taking proactive steps to strengthen their security measures. One approach has been to educate employees to ensure that they understand how to protect their data. Many companies host a “privacy day” or “privacy week” to raise awareness and reinforce institutional values regarding individual data protection. Microsoft, Google and Twitter, for example, celebrate Data Privacy Day on January 28, the same day as the U.S. government’s Data Privacy Day, to raise awareness of privacy and data protection issues.[1] Other companies like Yelp and Facebook have implemented bug bounty programs to strengthen their security. Bug bounty programs give hackers an avenue to report vulnerabilities to tech companies in exchange for cash, incentivizing them to disclose problems instead of exploiting them.[2]

In addition to taking preemptive measures to boost security and privacy systems, it is important for companies to collaborate with other companies to combat hackers and build consumer trust. On September 7, 2000, American Express, one of the largest US credit card issuers, announced a new suite of tools developed to safeguard members’ privacy when shopping online.[3] The very next day, another financial services company reported that hackers had gained access to more than 15,000 card numbers and related customer information.[3] After the hack, American Express responded quickly and ended up joining forces with industry peers to create the Worldwide E-Commerce Fraud Prevention Network. Creating the network bolstered American Express’ reputation as a privacy leader and instilled greater trust in the eyes of consumers.

Hacking Critical Infrastructure

We rely on critical infrastructure (CI) every day. According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are sixteen CI sectors, including food and agriculture, transportation systems, water and wastewater systems, and nuclear reactors, materials, and waste.[4] Private corporations dominate these sectors, and a successful cyberattack on a corporation in control of CI may carry with it far more serious consequences than one against the average business.[5]

CI is vulnerable. Almost three-quarters (67%) of the respondents to a 2015 Ponemon Institute survey of CI corporations admitted to having had at least one security compromise that led to the loss of confidential information or disruption of operations in the last 12 months.[6] Of those attacks, 26% targeted industrial control systems, systems which regulate heavy equipment. Taking control of such systems allows hackers to wreak physical havoc, as in the case of a 2014 attack against a German steel mill in which attackers dealt with extensive damage by shutting down a blast furnace in an unsafe manner.[7]

Corporations and governments are aware of and responding to the risks posed by cyberattacks against CI. In the 2015 Ponemon Institute survey, a full 64% of respondents described themselves as “committed to preventing or detecting advanced persistent threats.”[8] The US Department of Homeland Security has founded the Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT), an organization committed to “reduc[ing] the risk to the Nation’s critical infrastructure.”[9] However, with the number of attacks against CI on the rise, only time will tell if current efforts are sufficient.[10]

The Future of Corporate Hacking

The future of corporate hacking, and more generally cyber-attacks, is an interesting one. Attacks are expected to become more sophisticated, and the trend we have seen will continue into the future, as brute force attacks are upgraded for more elegant, clandestine versions. The first major implementation of this type of hack was Stuxnet, and further applications of programs like these are endless. Corporations will start to see subtle, virtually unnoticeable tweaks within their systems, trying to disrupt them or siphon our money, for example. Criminals will stray away from stealing credit card numbers in bulk to stealing small amounts of money that, over time, will accumulate to a sizeable amount.

Data sabotage will also see an uptick: “A key piece of such cyber events will probably be some form of data sabotage, the subtle tweaking of data within transactions to gain some type of benefit. It’s a concept that U.S. intelligence officials and security firms have identified as one of ‘cybercrime’s next big fronts for 2016.’”[11] Hackers will increasingly be used to devalue companies, whether by competitors, third parties, or someone with a vendetta. We will see creditability attacks on companies aimed at affecting public support and destabilizing their position in the economy. James R. Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, warns that “We foresee an ongoing series of low-to-moderate level cyberattacks from a variety of sources over time, which will impose cumulative costs on US economic competitiveness and national security.”[12]


Consumer interests are seriously compromised when corporations are hacked. However, by studying past hacks, reviewing current security protocols, understanding the risk to nations’ critical infrastructure, and looking to the future, the risks presented by corporate hacking can begin to be mitigated. If CEOs and policymakers everywhere will take this threat seriously and deploy forces to combat it, then consumers can be protected.











History of Hacking


Protecting Consumer Data


Hacking Critical Infrastructure


The Future of Corporate Hacking–data-sabotage.html








[6] Ibid.




[10] Ibid.




Vote Early and Vote Often: Voter Fraud in the United States

Lexi, Kyle, Adam, and Lauren

Voter fraud takes place when there is some sort of “illegitimate interference in an election” (Ballotpedia). It has existed since the very first of elections and was a huge part of elections in the colonial era, when, among other manipulations, people were often bribed for their votes. The common saying “vote early and vote often”, which is mainly attributed to Al Capone and organized crime in the early 1900s, originated from the large amounts of people who would vote once, and then put on a series of disguises to vote again. There are numerous types of voter fraud, and as the United States has progressed, there have been more comprehensive efforts to eliminate voter fraud. One of the main issues, is that certain efforts, passed off as preventative measures against voter fraud, can lend themselves to the disenfranchisement of minority voters.

Types of Voter Fraud

One type of voter fraud is known as ballot stuffing or double voting, which is the case when one person votes more than once in an election. Another possibility is voter impersonation, which occurs when someone pretends to be another individual and casts a vote in his/her name. Going along with this topic, sometimes people use the names of deceased voters to cast extra ballots in the election. Other types of fraud include registration fraud, vote-buying, or fraud by election officials (throwing out ballots, casting fake ballots, etc.). Providing misinformation, or confusing ballot questions can also be forms voter fraud. In fact, fliers were distributed at Bates this year that had false information surrounding the voting in the 2016 election, a type of misinformation fraud. Voter suppression is another type of voter fraud, which is a more controversial issue. Physical harassment, like that which took place against African Americans after the Civil War, is clearly seen as an illegal and immoral form of voter suppression.  But, there is a larger spectrum of opinions when it comes to other issues of voter suppression. Restrictions on polling hours, absentee voting, and early voting, as well as requirements of ID can all be manipulated to prevent certain groups from voting.  Studies have shown that voter fraud in the United States is often exaggerated, in fact, a study by News21, published in the Wall Street Journal, found that there were only 2068 cases from 2000 to 2012 (Media Solutions – Voter Fraud Facts). Although there are very few proven cases of voter fraud, this does not stop the media and candidates, like Trump, from claiming that there is extensive voter fraud in the United States. One survey found that as of October, 41% of people believed that voter fraud could “steal” the Presidency from Donald Trump, but now that Trump has won, it is Jill Stein that is calling for recounts in certain states (The Daily Wire).


(Wall Street Journal)

Past Cases of Election Uncertainty:

Gore v. Bush 2000

In the 2000 presidential election of Bush v. Gore, Florida was an extremely tight race that was inaccurately called for each candidate.  Gore actually conceded on election night, but then un-conceded upon learning just how close the election was. The extremely small margin of victory for Bush, which ended up being 537 votes, prompted an automatic recount under Florida state law.  Adding controversy to the case was issue of hanging Chads and butterfly ballots, which brought into not only the re-count of ballots, but questions regarding the interpretation of voter intentions.  Gore’s camp appealed the claim to the Florida Supreme Court, and Bush subsequently appealed to the U.S Supreme Court, which ruled that the requested manual recount was unconstitutional.  Ultimately, the originally result was confirmed, giving Bush Florida and the presidency.

This case became relevant when Donald Trump said that if he lost, he would refuse to accept the result of the election as transparent and fair.  When he received backlash about undermining a peaceful transition of power, Trump’s camp cited the Democrats’ actions in the 2000 election as precedent of election criticism.  Journalists have argued that Trump’s comparison was baseless because the Democrats were fighting over how the votes were counted, not about a rigged election (USA Today).  Further, after the legal matters were resolved, Gore did peacefully concede to Bush and congratulated him on his victory.  While the underlying petitions in each election may not be the same, the elections of the 21st century have led to the questioning of presidential legitimacy.  In 2000, Bush won the presidency without winning the popular vote. Obama’s presidency has been undermined by questions surrounding his citizenship. Now, Trump looks to have won the presidency without winning the popular vote.  The question is whether recent discussion of recounts is truly an attempt to get the democratic process right or is a sign of growing political tensions as a result of an increasingly divided population.

Voter Fraud 2016

In Indiana, there has been major suspicion over false voter registration. Indiana State Police are currently investigating the Indiana Voter Registration Project, which registered 45,000 minority voters in Indiana. Suspicion has also been raised at the state’s voter file at large. An investigation found 837,000 outdated addresses, 4,556 doubly registered, 3,000 with no date of birth, and 31 underaged registered voters (LA Times).

Virginia is also under suspicion. 19 dead people were re-registered to vote in Harrisonburg Virginia by a group called HarrisonburgVOTE, although none of them apparently voted. Local police and the FBI are currently investigating.

As for Trump’s numerous claims:

Trump has claimed that “people that have died 10 years ago are still voting”, based on a study that found 1.8 million dead people on voter registration rolls. However, the study itself found no evidence of wrongdoing, and the dead were just registered, not actually voting.

Trump also claims illegal immigrants are voting, and that without them, he would have won the popular vote as well as the electoral vote. He cited a study by two professors at Old Dominion, Richman and Earnest. However, the study has been debunked by the managers of the database it was based on, the Cooperative Congressional Election Study. The managers of the CCES say the entirety of the findings of the Old Dominion professors are caused by measurement error. By checking back in future years, it turned out that “non-citizens” who had voted had simply accidentally checked the wrong box on the survey. If any non-citizens had voted, it would have been a negligible amount (


Do Voter ID Laws Prevent Voter Fraud?

In theory, voter ID laws are supposed to enhance public confidence in the legitimacy of democracy across the country; if in the case that an individual actually commits voter fraud, his vote won’t be a heavy influence in the race because, simply, the law may prevent this at from occurring in the first place. However, voter fraud is an extremely rare action. According to a Washington Post article from 2014, an investigation found that only thirty-one credible incidences of voter impersonation occur out of one billion ballots cast (“A Comprehensive Investigation of Voter Impersonation Finds 31 Credible Incidents oOut of One Billion Balllots Cast”). Therefore, although some individuals believe voter ID laws prevent voter fraud from happening, in reality, it happens so rarely to begin with that one cannot conclude that voter ID laws alone stop voter fraud from happening.

Furthermore, voter fraud that could be prevented by voter ID laws happens on such a small scale within an election that the fraud alone is very unlikely the decisive factor of a race. In August of 2016, Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola University Law School found 31 cases of documented, in-person voter fraudulence which could have been prevented with stricter voter identification laws at polling places (“The Disconnect between Voter ID Laws and Voter Fraud”). The most severe instance Leavitt found was one that occurred in Brooklyn, NY where as many as 24 voters tried to vote under assumed names. He then plotted general election results that were considered “close” from 2006 to 2012 with voter margins plotted against votes cast.



(dark colored dots represent races with margins less than 500 votes-from Washington Post article “The Disconnect between Voter ID Laws and Voter Fraud”)


In doing so, Leavitt tried to illustrate the rarity of close elections and to disprove the notion that voter fraud could be the most influential determinant in an election.


Ultimately, the in-person voter fraud that voter ID laws would target happens so infrequently and with a very miniscule influence that as Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, explained in a 2015 interview, one is more likely to be struck by lightning in Texas than commit in-person voter fraud (“Lightning Strikes More Common in Texas Than In-Person Voter Fraud”).


Just When You Thought It Was Over…


The election has come and gone, and Donald Trump is President. However, some are beginning to say it is not over. As of Saturday the Obama administration has officially conceded,[1]claiming that the results are correct and we should all begin to engage the new administration, several movements are taking place that have resulted in states conducting recounts of the results. Because Clinton won the popular vote by a fairly significant margin, many are suspicious of possible cyber manipulation or miscounts of the results and are demanding officials take a second look. Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, has raised almost $6 million[2] dollars in just a few short weeks to help push the effort forward. Many are proud of her effort, but are disappointed that this sudden push for Clinton did not come before the election.

So as the recounts take over the news for the next several weeks, it is essential to understand the process, the reasoning, historical precedent, and what is at stake. At the moment Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania will be recounted, but several other states may come into play. Many question if this truly matters, as the median vote gain from a recount has been about 219[3] and President elect Trump won each of those states by much larger outcomes, but most voters appreciate taking the time to get it right. Below we will explore several different ideas regarding the upcoming recounts to help make us aware of what to expect in the coming weeks.

What is a recount?

To understand what is going on right now, we must first understand what a political recount is! Obviously, a recount is a method of checking to make sure all votes were properly accounted for, and to also double check that there weren’t too many votes for one candidate. According to (National Conference of State Legislatures), 43 States permit a losing candidate to request one. Recount costs are paid by the petitioner for most states, meaning generally the losing party has to find money to pay for a recount. Recounts are very difficult because of the many different ways voters can vote. As a result, it is difficult to find errors in voting patterns, and raw data is difficult to sift through.


A Brief History of Very Close American Recounts

There have been very few recounts in American Elections. In 1974 there was a recount for a senate seat. After the recount, the original winner still won. However, the senate felt that a rerun should occur (due to the data given), and ironically the challenger ended up winning by a far larger margin. [1] A few years later, in Minnesota, the gubernatorial race ended with a margin of fewer than 200 votes. After the recount (which took about 3 months), the challenger actually won the election, and was able to come into office. Everybody knows about the presidential election in 2000, Bush v. Gore. Due to “Machine counting, hand counting, ballot inspection, and disputes over absentee votes,”[1] the results were extremely difficult to recount. The supreme court ended up suspending the recount, and giving Bush the election. The next recount to occur was also in Minnesota, where Democratic candidate (and previous SNL writer) Al franken ended up winning the recount. (same source)

Because of the few times in our county’s history where we’ve required a recount for a large election (Congress/Presidential), we have very little to know about what is going to happen regarding Clinton and Trump.

What’s Happening in 2016

As of last week, Jill Stein had raised over $6 million for her recount campaign – making it easily the largest third party donation campaign history and nearly doubling the amount she received during the 2016 election.[1] The question is whether the momentum behind Stein’s recount movement is primarily a product of liberal bitterness or of legitimate allegations of fraud.


Recount State Rules and Margins

Stein is pushing for recounts in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – three battleground states that were projected to go to Hillary. Trump’s margin of victory in each state was 0.3%, 1.2%, and 0.7%, respectively. These margins may sound low, but they are significantly larger than the largest margin ever to have been overturned by recount.

Automatic recount laws exist in 20 states, including Michigan and Pennsylvania. However, the margins in the 2016 election were too large to trigger either state to conduct a recount. Additionally, the deadline has passed for requesting a recount in Pennsylvania, which will require Stein to petition one in court. Stein’s campaign will be responsible for paying all associated costs for any recount.


Wisconsin – Recount in Progress

In Wisconsin, where a recount has already begun, Donald Trump is thought to have won by over 22,000 votes. The Wisconsin recount will involve a rigorous audit of over 100 reporting centers. New vote totals will established by hand counting all properly marked ballots from selected counties, and re-running electronically tabulated ballots through electronic voting equipment.[1] Because the recount is meant to be a transparent process, the public is welcome to be present. The cost of the Wisconsin recount is expected to be higher than the $520,000 it cost to recount half as many ballots (1.5 million vs. 3 million) in 2011, and the federal deadline for the results is December 13, 2016.[2]


Likely Outcomes

The recount and fraud media storyline appears to have received attention due to an emotional response by Democrats rather than due to actual evidence of fraud. The margins of victory in the recount states are well beyond what could be overturned by a recount except in the case of large-scale fraud. Additionally, it’s not clear that a recount would be capable of detecting such fraud, especially in the case of Pennsylvania, where the availability of direct electronic voting doesn’t leave physical evidence behind to be cross-checked.[3] Finally, even if Hillary were to win any single one of the three states, she still would not have enough electoral votes to win. The most likely explanation for both Trump’s victories in these states and the energy behind Stein’s recount campaign is the shock that all voters felt as the polls came significantly and consistently short in predicting Trump’s vote share.


Final Thoughts  

We thought that a Thursday Washington Post piece titled “Why are people giving Jill Stein millions of dollars for an election recount?” gave two interesting thoughts on the recount story. The first thought was (and don’t be bitter, but this is a little ironic): Jill Stein received more votes in both Michigan and Wisconsin than Trump’s margin of victory.[4] In a campaign where the constructive role of third parties was heavily scrutinized, it’s interesting to think about what Stein’s motives for spearheading this recount are, and what role she will have in our memory of the factors shaping this election’s outcome. The second thought was that if the recount campaign is nothing more than a manifestation of liberal anger, that energy might be better spent supporting the election of populist Democrat Foster Campbell in Louisiana’s December 10th runoff Senate election.













What Now?

By Wendy Dong, Sean MacDonlad, and Ian Stewart

To the surprise of many pollsters, forecasters, and everyday people, Donald Trump wonthe 2016 presidential election, therefore in line to become the 45th president of the United States. Or did he? Recent talk of a recount as well as an electoral college initiative has given hope to those who were less than pleased with Trump’s victory.

So how does the electoral college even work? The founding fathers established theelectoral college as middle ground to settle differing federal, state, and citizen interests. Eachstate is given as many electors as it has Representatives and Senators in Congress, and D.C.gets three electors. There are 538 electors in the Electoral College, and at least 270 electoral votes are required to elect the president. 

Each state has its own group of electors for each of the candidates running for President, and these electors are selected by the political parties in each state. Therefore, whenyou go to the polls to vote for a candidate, you are technically voting for the electors who aregoing to cast their ballots for a candidate in the Electoral College. Every state follows the“winner-takes-all” system in which the state’s electors are all awarded to the candidate that received the most votes in that state, except Maine and Nebraska, which follow a “proportional representation” or “congressional district” system.

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With Clinton having won the popular vote by a large margin (surpassing 2 million by the latest tally), many of her supporters are saying it’s time for the electoral college to get abolished, arguing that the very point of the system was to avoid radical candidates elected by an uninformed public and it has done the exact opposite with Trump. However, as much talk asthere is, the odds of anything about the system changing in the near future are slim. The simplest way to change the system would be to amend the constitution, but given that ¾ of state legislatures would need to pass it and more than half of states went for Trump, that option is offthe table (especially now with Republican majorities in Congress, where ⅔ of each house needsto support the amendment).

Another way that is less simple but slightly more possible (yet still very unlikely) would be if states on their own decided to award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote rather than their own state vote. Again, however, states that supported Trump and helped him win despite his losing the national popular vote have no incentive to switch to this system,and it doesn’t work unless every state is on it.

A third method gradually getting implemented in some states is ranked choice voting. Though this wouldn’t completely nullify the electoral college, it would help prevent third party candidates from messing with vote shares of the two major candidates, something that many cite as one of the reasons Clinton lost. So although the electoral college will remain intact,states may adapt to change the methods they use to assign their electoral votes.

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As far as a recount is concerned, initially, Jill Stein was the one calling for a recount ofthe votes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. She has made claims that Russia hacked US voting machines to change the outcome of the election. The Green Party has raised $5,000,000 out of $7,000,000 to fund the recount.

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The Obama administration has come out in support of the results stating: “Nevertheless,we stand behind our election results, which accurately reflect the will of the American people,”The Clinton campaign was initially averse to the idea of a recount, which may relate to her earlier rhetoric claiming that Trump needed to accept the election results as legitimate.However, recently, Clinton campaign officials have stated that the Clinton campaign will take part in a recount due to “claims of abnormalities and irregularities.” The Clinton campaign argues that they are requesting a necessary service for the 64 million people that voted for Hillary.

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Election lawyers and computer scientists in support of Clinton requesting a recount cite issues such as more votes cast than registered voters in certain Wisconsin counties as grounds for there count. Another issue cited is the 85,000 blank votes for the presidential race in Michigan. In Minnesota in 2008, Senator Al Franken won on a recount of paper ballots, so anything is possible. If a discrepancy is found in the early recount, then the door is opened to a full investigation. This can wind up in the Supreme Court with a very awkward situation with a 4-4court.

Marijuana Legalization in the United States

Andreas Tonckens, Kyle Morrison, Molly Foley, Kelsey Bumgardner

Federally prohibited since the 1930s, marijuana has long been a divisive topic amongst American citizens. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to passrecreational marijuana legalization, which became law in 2014. Since then, Alaska and Oregon have legalized recreational use as well. Despite the group of Western states with legalized recreational cannabis use, the initiative had yet to spread across the country in a big way until this election cycle, with five states voting on recreational legalization and another four voting on medical usage. In this post, we will look at polling and voting results in three states in which recreational use was on the ballot.

Maine: Question 1
Maine was one of the states projected by many media outlets as likely to passrecreational cannabis possession and usage. As late as October, polls were showing that 54%of Maine voters supported approving Question 1. In fact, it only passed by 2,620 votes, a50.17% to 49.83% victory. Maine stood out as a potential victory for recreational marijuana legalization not only due to its liberal leaning population, but also because of the massive funding disparities in the race. The Support Question 1 campaign raised more than $3.2 million while the two opposing groups were only able to muster around $230,000. While it was always supposed to be close, not many saw it being as close as it was. Support in populous suburbs went against party affiliation lines, with fewer democratic voters supporting Question 1 than many expected.1
Opponents of the ballot measure discussed fears over children legally obtaining and smoking cannabis (unfounded considering the same age restrictions that apply to alcohol would apply to recreational marijuana), disruption of the medical marijuana industry, and out-of-state investments harming the interests of citizens of the state.
Supporters championed common sense, community safety, and a fiduciary responsibility to create jobs and tax revenue. In terms of specific economic impact, the Maine Office of Fiscal and Program Review’s estimates the revenue from recreational marijuana taxes would come inaround $2,800,000 for the first fiscal year of the policy (2017-2018) and would increase to an estimated $10,700,000 in the following years.
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In the above images, we have town by town results maps for the 2016 election. The image ofthe right depicts the Presidential race while the left represents the marijuana legalization race.We put these side-by-side because there seems to be a big divide in legalization support along party lines. In the case of Maine, the Question 1 map mostly mirrors the Presidential map,alluding to the connection between party affiliation and stance on cannabis legalization. We seethis effect with the urban population centers. Looking at both maps, they were the mostsupportive and most influential voters of both Clinton and Question 1.
California: Proposition 64
Moving out West, California stood out as a national tipping point of sorts for recreational marijuana use in the United States according to Keith Stroup, founder of the pro-marijana legalization group NORML. If California, a state with considerable political clout given its 55 senators and representatives, manages to unify the voices of their representatives, it couldsignificantly alter the course of legislation in Washington D.C.
Polling showed Proposition 64 leading up through Election day with support hovering around 60% state-wide. California has long had legalized medical marijuana and often finds itself at the forefront of social issues given its liberal disposition. Again, there was overwhelming fundraising from the supporters of the proposition and less inspiring numbers from the opposition.Supporters raised almost $23 million while the opposition to Proposition 64 only garnered $2million.
Opponents of the motion all struck similar chords, harping on the fact that Proposition 64 wouldlead to excessive commercialization and inefficient regulation. Many of the opponents torecreational legalization even acknowledged they were supportive of eventual legalization in
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Looking at the maps of California’s voting on Prop 64 and the Presidential Election, wesee significant carryover from strong liberal areas to support for legalization. While there aresome counties that flip both ways, more Republican counties went against the grain of theirparty’s trends. While it may not have made a difference in California because of the coastalpopulation concentration, it demonstrates the widespread support in a state sure to influencethe future of marijuana legalization. Widespread support in California lends itself to the supportof candidates in favor of federal legalization or further state-initiated regulation.
Arizona: Proposition 205
A victory in Arizona would have been a landmark victory for nationwide marijuanaregulation and legalization. A typically conservative state, Arizona might have paved the way forother such states to follow in its path or at least open more conservative voters up to the idea.Polls leading up to the election showed Support and Opposition in something of a dead heat,with a Data Orbital poll taken six days before the vote showing Support leading 48% to 47%Opposing with 4% undecided and a 4% margin of error. Corroborating those numbers,supporters raised $5.2 million while the opposition raised $5.6.4
Government officials against legalization in Arizona were exclusively Republican and manyOrganizations backing the opposition were more conservative by nature (Arizona CatholicConference of Bishops, Az Association of County School Superintendents, etc.). Opponentstouched on three key issues in their campaign for prohibition: the growing pockets of BigMarijuana special interests, endangering the health of children, and traffic safety.
The supporters of the movement focused on social justice in terms of appropriate punishmentfor a substance objectively less societally harmful than alcohol, community safety and theremoval of the underground market, and financial implications.
From a financial perspective, according to the Arizona Joint Legislative Budget Committee, theinitiative would have raised $123 million in annual revenue for the state and localities, pledging$55 million to full day kindergarten programs and general aid to K-12 schools.5
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From the maps, it appears that opinions on marijuana legalization in Arizona are somewhat lessstratified than party affiliation. Where the state routinely saw large margins of victory for eitherparty in its counties, Proposition 205 saw narrower margins and more uncertainty. It is relativelyunsurprising to see the Phoenix area turn out against legalization due to its conservative leaningin the election, however Tuscon’s county figured to be a strong base of support for thelegalization campaign that fell flat. Without sizable a lead in one of seemingly must-win countiesfor the support group, the motion simply could not find the votes to pass.
What’s Next?:
California, Maine, and Massachusetts have expanded legalization on both coasts, somethingthat could prompt widespread discussion about the merits of recreation marijuana use. One fifthof the country’s states have now legalized recreational use and that number only figures to growas the years go on.
Just last year, there was an amendment to stop federal interference with state marijuana lawsthat fell short by nine votes. California alone has added 53 representatives to the list of federallawmakers who represent places where cannabis is legal.6
Here we can see support across demographics. 71% of millennials support legalization whilethat number shrinks to 57% and 56% for the next two generations respectively and 33% for theoldest group polled. According to PEW Data, only 41% of Republicans support legalization while66% of Democrats are in favor of the measure. We can see over time the country has graduallygotten less conservative, a trend that seems likely to continue. With millennial support at 71% right now, it would seem likely that in the relatively near future we will see the drugdecriminalized at the federal level.