Debates about how absentee and provisional ballots are distributed and counted have long been part of broader national discussions on the subject of election reform. (Corey Taratuta / Flickr) (CC-BY)

As my family gathered for Thanksgiving dinner Thursday, I knew that we’d be talking about whether to recount the presidential election results.

Jennifer, my daughter, is all for it and is enraged that major news outlets have been ignoring the story. Nancy, my wife, is outraged, too. She and Jennifer sent contributions to Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein’s recount campaign. John, my son-in-law, is adding his opinions, as are granddaughters Anabelle and Lila.

There will be no arguments over politics at our Thanksgiving dinner table. All of us were for Hillary Clinton. But I’m afraid I’m the old naysayer in that I don’t share their outrage, my mind encrusted with caution after decades as a mainstream journalist. My experience has taught me to be skeptical: Beware of conspiracy theories. The election is over. Quit mourning. Move on to resisting President-elect Donald Trump.

Yet I have second thoughts. What Jill Stein says deserves serious attention. When I interviewed her during the campaign, she offered intriguing, well-thought-out ideas, such as putting people to work in green industries through her Green New Deal.

She has raised more than $4 million in an amazingly short time to finance recounts in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. She said, as the British newspaper The Guardian reported Thursday, that there was “compelling evidence of voting anomalies” and “significant discrepancies in vote totals” released by state authorities. “These concerns need to be investigated before the 2016 election is certified. We deserve elections we can trust,” she said.

READ: Jill Stein and Legal and Computing Experts Question Election Results, Call for Action

Warnings about election-rigging were raised throughout the campaign. Much of the concern was stirred up by Trump, who had warned of a “rigged” election and suggested he may not recognize the results if he lost. While he was engaged in his disruptive tactics, the Democratic National Committee’s computers and Clinton campaign chief John Podesta’s computer files were hacked, American intelligence agencies claimed, by the Russians.

I’ve reported on some of the fears being raised.

On Oct. 7, I wrote in a Truthdig column, “Vote-counting systems are antiquated and often poorly run … this adds up to investigations and lawsuits alleging miscounted votes and fraud, stretching beyond Election Day and making doubters even more skeptical of the results … even people who don’t buy the conspiracy theories are alarmed.” An organization called Election Justice USA alleged that hackers installed algorithms (a set of instructions) in vote-counting machines to increase Hillary Clinton’s vote and to deny Bernie Sanders the Democratic presidential nomination. It issued a report, “Democracy Lost: A Report on ohe Fatally Flawed Democratic Primaries” and collaborated on another report, “An Electoral System in Crisis.” The Election Justice USA website is tracking the Stein recount effort.

Concern grew, although it didn’t make it into the mainstream media. On Oct. 26, I reported on Truthdig about the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reforms’ hearings on possible vote-rigging. Most experts told the committee they didn’t think anyone could change the presidential vote. One dissenter was professor Andrew Appel of Princeton, who has studied the tampering of voting machines. He explained how someone could reprogram individual voting machines to change votes.I was particularly impressed with the words of a committee member, Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat who has a degree in computer science from Stanford University. I had covered Lieu’s campaign and grew to respect his intelligence and common sense. His words turned out to be prophetic.

“My view is that they don’t have to hack 50 states,” he told the committee. “In a close presidential election, they need to hack one swing state or maybe one or two, or maybe just a few counties in one swing state.” He said he questioned the reassurances given the committee by election experts. “I sort of challenge your premise that in 50 states we are robust. Is there a focus on those swing states to make sure that, in states where the election is close, we have done everything we can to make sure the integrity of the elections is protected?”

Others have echoed Lieu’s concerns since the election. On Wednesday, The Guardian reported, “A growing number of academics and activists are calling for U.S. authorities to fully audit or recount the 2016 election vote in key battleground states, in case the results could have been skewed by foreign hackers.”

One of those academics is J. Alex Halderman, University of Michigan professor of computer science. He wrote Wednesday on his blog on Medium:

How might a foreign government hack America’s voting machines to change the outcome of a presidential election? Here’s one possible scenario. First the attackers would probe election offices well in advance in order to find ways to break into their computers. Closer to the election, when it was clear from polling data which states would have close electoral margins, the attackers might spread malware into voting machines in some of those states, rigging the machines to shift a few percent of the vote to favor their desired candidate.

Halderman pointed to American intelligence assertions that the Russian government was behind previous attacks on the Democratic committee and Clinton’s campaign chief Podesta. But, he added, Russia is not the only country with such capabilities.

He continued:

“Were this year’s deviation from pre-election polls the result 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. The only way to know whether a cyberattack changed the result is to closely examine the available physical evidence—paper ballots and voting equipment in critical states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Unfortunately nobody is ever going to examine that evidence unless candidates in those states act now, in the next several days, to petition for recounts.

The deadlines for formally contesting the election results are approaching fast. The Stein website said filing deadlines are Nov. 25 for Wisconsin, Nov. 28 for Pennsylvania and Nov. 30 for Michigan.

Like professor Halderman, I doubt if the election was hacked, but I don’t know for sure. That’s why it’s important to support Jill Stein’s campaign for a recount.

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