A bullying foul-mouthed politician cozying up to China wins the Presidency in the Philippines. He quickly calls for ending the Philippines relationship with the US and aligning with China.
Against all odds, a vote in the UK sets it up to leave the EU.
Despite polls putting him behind, a loose-talking reality show actor who talks of being a fan of Russian President Putin wins the US Presidency by narrow margins in three states despite being a big loser nationwide.
Coincidence? Could be, but story writers will forever write of 2016 as the year computer hackers stole elections around the world.
The truth is we do not know whether any elections have been rigged. There is no evidence beyond how this year election results have been very strange. So strange that we must take care to carefully investigate the possibility that hackers have stolen elections, without jumping to conclusions either way.
As a scientist, I ask my fellow scientists to join me in getting out in front of this story to provide careful reasoning in the face of unlikely but possible coincidences. I ask scientists to recognize a big story before it happens, so that the discussion can remain credible.
It is possible that hackers working for foreign government would want to steal elections. Russia has in fact likely hacked into email accounts in a more clumsy effort to sway the election. China has also performed computer attacks, but I will give one reason that I think China is less likely to be involved: China had a big stake in elections in Taiwan and Hong Kong and yet those two elections resulted in outcomes that went against China. Russia, though, has had a long history of interference in elections in Europe. Russia’s handling of its invasion of Crimea and manipulation of fighting in Ukraine show it is willing to use subterfuge.
What to do? Investigations of all three elections are required. In the US, this includes elections in the Republican primaries.
Level headed people will recognize that such investigations will likely put worries to rest. These results may have been unexpected expressions by voters. But we must not allow ourselves to be subject to years of soul-searching of why didn’t we investigate when we had the chance. Regardless what we do, this year has set itself up for future moviemakers, whether voters or hackers are to blame. We need to come out looking good in the real story.
I call for election results to be carefully recounted and reanalyzed even without having anyone come forward to pay for it.