Recount or Bust: It's the Only Way to Verify Who Won the 2016 Election
John Bonifaz is a longtime voting rights attorney and founder of the National Voting Rights Institute. In 2004, he was lead counsel for the Green and Libertarian parties that filed for a presidential recount in Ohio. He has been leading efforts to file for presidential recounts in the three states that tipped the Electoral College majority from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. AlterNet’s Steven Rosenfeld interviewed him on Wednesday.
Steven Rosenfeld: Let’s start with why do a recount, and who can do it?
John Bonifaz: The reason why we need to have recounts done in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin is because this was a very, very close election and the way we verify the vote is to go through the recount process. We unfortunately do not have mandatory audits in any of those states and most states in the country, and therefore we rely on machine counts on election night to tell who won and who lost a particular election.
Any functioning democracy should involve the verification of the vote. That, in this case, involves a recount process. The candidates who are on the ballot in Michigan and Wisconsin can call for the recount. In Pennsylvania, it’s voters who can. It doesn’t have to be the runner-up candidate. Third-party candidates can call for the recounts in Michigan and Wisconsin. And three voters per county in Pennsylvania can call for them. There were serious concerns leading up to the election about the vulnerability of our voting systems. There were anomalies that occurred on Election Day and all those give rise to the basis of why we make sure we verify the vote.
Steven Rosenfeld: In Wisconsin, my understanding is you have to file a legal complaint of what went wrong. What will you point to?
John Bonifaz: First, we’ll point to the fact that there are certain [electronic voting] systems in the state of Wisconsin that are being used, which have been proven to be vulnerable to being tampered with or being hacked. And the state of California banned the use of those systems, but Wisconsin, with some restrictions, still uses them. So that’s point one. Given the fact that those systems are still in use, it’s important to make sure that we verify the vote.
The other systems, the paper ballot systems, we’ve determined are in fact showing a discrepancy between the jurisdictions where the paper ballots have been used and [where] the touchscreen machines have been used. That discrepancy has given rise further to the point of verifying the vote. There are different theories as to why that discrepancy exists. One can argue the demographics in the jurisdictions with the touchscreen machines point to why there is that discrepancy. But until we actually verify the vote we won’t know the answers to this.
SR: And that’s where the preliminary research has shown there are a dozen counties where greater than 85 percent reported turnout—another red flag—right?
JB: Correct. We all heard the Nate Silver thing—it’s explainable by demographics and not by any problem with the machines. But this is anybody’s guess. His theory might be plausible. But the theory that the voting systems had some kind of vulnerability and were tampered with might also be plausible. The purpose of a recount is to assure the public and the voters that we have verified the process.
We engage in the cross-checking and the double-checking of matters all the time in other areas of our society. There’s no reason why we wouldn’t want to verify the vote, particularly in this kind of an election.
SR: Now what is the Green Party’s role? They can file because they have a candidate.
JB: They have a candidate that was on the ballot in those states, and that candidate has a right under that state’s law to demand a recount.
SR: What is their history in this kind of process?
JB: I served as lead counsel for the Green Party presidential candidate and the Libertarian presidential candidate in 2004 in a demand for a recount in Ohio in that presidential election, when Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic candidate for president, chose not to seek the recount. And the Green Party and the Libertarian Party stepped forward and demanded that recount and raised the funds from small-dollar donors all across the country. That was a healthy process to engage in.
That is really the kind of healthy democratic process that we should engage in today. When every poll in the country showed that there would be a different result on Election Night than what was reported, particularly going into those three states, the public is deserving to know, with all the anomalies on top of that, that we verified the vote. And we’re not going to know until we’ve done the recounts.
SR: The first deadline for filing is Friday in Wisconsin.
JB: Friday at 5pm Eastern, and the funds need to be raised in time enough for that filing to occur. So it’s really by midday Friday at the latest.
Editor’s note: The Green Party needs to raise $5-$6 million for the recount, split between state filing costs and legal fees. As of Friday morning, they have raised $4.9 million. Jill Stein’s presidential campaign has a webpage for donations up to $2,700, the individual contribution limit for federal presidential campaigns. The Green Party’s Ohio state party can take individual donations up to $10,000, which will be used for the recount. ReCountNow also has a webpage for donations and volunteering for observing the count and precinct-based investigations.