2016 Recount Update: Republicans Freaking out in Wisconsin, and Greens File for Hand Counts in Michigan
The Green Party's presidential recounts in the three states that gave Donald Trump his Electoral College majority made halting progress Wednesday. As the party formally filed for a recount in Michigan, Wisconsin Republicans filed a federal complaint against the Green Party and Hillary Clinton's campaign, and a suburban Philadelphia judge shut down a recount in his county. Meanwhile, organizers on the ground in all of these states are scurrying to recruit and train observers for the next stage of the process, which varies from watching county election officials hand-count ballots in Michigan, use a mix of hand counts and scanners in Wisconsin, and keep filing citizen petitions for precinct-level recounts in Pennsylvania.
Here’s a summary of the latest developments in the three states.
Jill Stein, the Green Party’s presidential candidate, filed a petition for a recount in Michigan on Wednesday, after a state board overseeing election results certified that Donald Trump won the state’s race by 10,704 votes, or a margin of just 0.22 percent of the 4.7 million votes cast. The Greens paid a $973,250 filing fee for a recount that is expected to start on Friday.
The state will hand-count these ballots, which is the standard Stein and a cadre of computer scientists and election experts say is the most accurate way to verify the results. That’s because the high-speed scanners used in Michigan (and much of Wisconsin) can misread ballots and are vulnerable to hackers seeking to adjust vote totals. After Election Day, for example, “there were 75,335 under-count tallies—votes that machines did not record as selecting anyone for president—nearly double the amount recorded in 2012,” the Greens' press release said.
“America's voting machines and optical scanners are prone to errors and susceptible to outside manipulation,” said J. Alex Halderman, a professor of computer science at the University of Michigan who has helped the Greens by filing legal statements supporting a hand count.
“Paper ballots, like those used in Michigan's elections, are the best defense we have against cyberattacks, but that defense is only effective if we actually look at the paper trail after the election,” he said Wednesday. “That’s precisely why we need this recount—to examine the physical evidence, to look under the hood. A recount is the best way, and indeed the only way in 2016, to ensure public confidence that the results are accurate, authentic and untainted by outside interference.”
It didn’t take long, however, for Republicans in Michigan to start criticizing the process.
“If we don’t have this process over by Dec. 13, we certainly jeopardize Michigan’s electors [16 Electoral College members] and risk disenfranchising all of Michigan’s voters from the election,” Eric Doster, general counsel for the Michigan Republican Party, told the Detroit News, suggesting an unfinished recount could suspend their participation in the Electoral College’s nationwide vote December 19.
“I am concerned about the costs to the taxpayer, specifically with a candidate who got 1.07 percent (of the vote) being able to put forward a recount that will be so cumbersome for our state and potentially put our electors at risk,” Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, told the paper.
Chris Thomas, the longtime state election director, said the state had to finish the recount by December 13. He told reporters that the recount could simply be called off after that date if the process isn't completed by then—as was the case in Florida in 2000 when the U.S. Supreme Court stopped a recount and awarded the presidency to George W. Bush.
“The question that’s out there ... what happens if we’re not done by the 13th?” Thomas said this week. “And I think the recount’s probably off at that point. That’s what the Supreme Court did back in 2000. It stopped the process right there.”
In other words, while Stein’s filing Wednesday was the starting line, whether the recount crosses a satisfying finish line will increasingly be an important question and possibly subject to litigation. The experience thus far in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania shows why that is the case.
The official recount will begin Thursday, where Trump leads Clinton by 22,177 votes. County election offices have the discretion to decide if they will use hand counts or electronic scanners for paper ballots, a state judge ruled Tuesday. She rejected the Greens' arguments backing hand counts, including the testimony from another half-dozen computer scientists like Halderman. The most notable testimony concerned how scanners misread ballots, she said, specifically how the standard error rate, when multiplied against the 2.9 million votes cast in Wisconsin’s presidential election, added up to more votes than Trump’s margin of victory.
Dane County Circuit Court Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn said there were good reasons to do a hand recount but no legal basis for her to mandate it. "I follow the law. That's who I am despite my personal opinions… It's (the counties’) decision. It's their discretion. I may disagree with it … but I must follow the law."
That ruling deeply disappointed election integrity activists, especially those who were traveling to Wisconsin to monitor the recount and train observers. They quickly pointed out that Bailey-Rihn had been a partner in a large law firm, Quarles and Brady, with deep Republican ties, such as sponsoring events for the Republican National Committee at its national convention, and other events that featured Republicans like Gov. Scott Walker. But one campaign finance lawyer based in Wisconsin said Bailey-Rihn is an establishment Democrat elected in one of the state’s bluest counties, who last spring sought the endorsement of the state teachers' union, a longtime Walker foe. “If you’re going to win in Dane County, you really can’t say she’s conservative.”
The recount is fraying nerves on both sides of the aisle. Wisconsin’s Republican Party filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday, accusing the Stein campaign of illegally coordinating with the Clinton campaign to conduct the recount. They demanded the FEC immediately investigate, saying “this recount effort amounts to nothing more than a massive campaign finance scheme designed to shield the Clinton campaign from unpopular decisions from that which can only serve to benefit Hillary Clinton’s campaign…It is concerning that the Stein campaign would position itself to front and fund a recount attempt that only serves the interests of a desperate and defeated Clinton campaign.”
Needless to say, this is the same Wisconsin Republican Party a federal appeals court last week ruled had unfairly redrawn political districts to favor its party—a way of tilting elections and the balance of power in its state. This could not be further from the recount’s election integrity mission, to verify the votes cast, which Stein keeps reiterating.
“All Americans deserve a voting system we can trust,” she said Wednesday. “People of all political persuasions are asking if our election results are reliable. We must recount the votes so we can build trust in our election system. We need to verify the vote in this and every election so that Americans can be sure we have a fair, secure and accurate voting system.”
The Keystone state continues to be the steepest climb for a recount. The deadline for a state-ordered recount has passed, leaving the Greens with the monumental task of getting three voters in each of the state’s 9,163 precincts to sign and submit recount petitions to their county election office. The window for those citizen petitions is narrow and closing across the state.
As of Wednesday, they were mostly focusing on six of the largest counties, “which together comprise 3.45 million voters (or 40 percent of the state’s registered voters),” they said. “Since Monday, concerned voters have filed more than 780 petitions in more than 304 election districts in Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Centre, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties. These are some of the most vote-rich counties in the state.”
While hundreds of people answered the Greens' call for volunteers to help gather and submit the petitions, a judge in Montgomery County, outside Philadelphia, rejected citizen petitions for 72 of the county’s precincts Wednesday. Judge Bernard A. Moore offered “no reason for his ruling,” Philly.com said, saying local election officials and Republicans oppose a recount.
“A solicitor for the county's election board and attorneys for the state Republican party opposed the Green Party's petitions, each of which was signed by three voters. They argued, in part, that the petitioners had failed to meet a technical requirement: filing $50 cash with each petition as required under state law,” Philly.com said. “Ilann Maazel, an attorney for Stein's campaign, said the Montgomery County petitions were filed with a fee of $250.69 each as required by the county prothonotary's office — more than enough to cover the cash requirement for recounts.”â€¨
The Stein campaign has a pending lawsuit in state court seeking a statewide recount. But that suit says the party wants to wait and see how the citizen petition process unfolds before going before a judge.
In the meantime, the Green Party, which has raised $6.7 million from 144,000 people, with average donations of $44, has increased its fundraising goal to $9.5 million for the recounts. That sum keeps on growing because the state election agencies are charging the party several times what was originally estimated for the recount.
The initial Wisconsin cost was estimated at $1.1 million, but the state demanded $3.5 million from the Greens this week. The party paid Michigan a deposit of $973,250 on Wednesday, but state election officials said that cost could double by the time the recount is done. And that estimate comes even as those same officials suggest they may seek to pull the plug on the process once the Electoral College meets and picks the next president on December 19.