Clinton-Stein Recount Drive Destined for Failure

Hurdles are high to get recounts in all three states narrowly won by Trump, and odds of overturning results are even longer

The Wisconsin Election Commission on Monday paved the way for a recount, the first of three states targeted by Jill Stein in what almost certainly amounts to little more than a vanity project — and an expensive one, at that.

Stein, who ran for president under the Green Party label, announced her intention last week to seek recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. On Saturday, the campaign of failed Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton said it would participate in the Wisconsin recount effort.

“Here we have a situation where Jill Stein, who is the person making the claims here, does not have any chance whatsoever … This is an enormous waste of time.”

President-Elect Donald Trump won all three states narrowly, but election experts struggled to come up with a single instance in which a recount ever produced changes in the vote total that would be sufficient to switch the outcome in one of those states, let alone all three.

“They are grasping at straws,” said Catherine Engelbrecht, founder of the election integrity group True the Vote. “There’s certainly nothing on record that’s ever risen to the level of what they are seeking.”

Even getting recounts in all three states likely will prove difficult to impossible. Wisconsin is the likeliest candidate. The Election Commission on Monday laid out a schedule for conducting recounts in all 72 counties by Dec. 13, the deadline for ensuring that the state’s 10 electoral votes are counted.

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Stein and independent presidential candidate Rocky De La Fuente, who got about 1,500 votes in Wisconsin and also has asked for a recount, must pay the costs of a recount in full by Tuesday. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, those costs could total $1 million; the exact cost will be tabulated from the estimates of each county clerk.

The recount would begin Thursday, and each county would decide whether to count paper ballots by hand or by machine.

Stein or De La Fuente theoretically could go to court to force hand recounts, but state law allows circuit judges to order hand counts if they find a “substantial probability” that the outcome would be changed. Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at The Heritage Foundation, noted that Wisconsin law also requires the candidate to state the basis for requesting the recount.

Von Spakovsky highlighted the absurdity of a recount by a candidate who won only about 1 percent of the vote.

“Here we have a situation where Jill Stein, who is the person making the claims here, does not have any chance whatsoever,” he said. “This is an enormous waste of time.”

Even if successful in Wisconsin, the vote would have to be flipped in Michigan and Pennsylvania to overturn the election. In Michigan, a recount could not be requested until the state canvassing board certified the results Monday.

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State law gives candidates seven days from the date of a recount petition to object. The state’s canvassing board, after a hearing, has five days to rule followed by a two-day waiting period.

That would put a recount perilously close to the “safe harbor” day on Dec. 13, the period 35 days after the election by which recounts must be completed under federal law. Also, Stein would have to pay the cost of $125 per precinct, or $787,500 in total. If Clinton asked for the recount, since Trump’s margin over her was less than half a percentage point, the cost would be $25 per precinct.

Chris Thomas, director of elections at the Michigan secretary of state’s office, told the Detroit Free-Press that state officials were confident they could complete a hand recount if necessary: “We’re on top of it. We’ve got some blueprints on how it will be done.”

In Pennsylvania, the law requires three voters from each voting district to file a petition alleging fraud or error in order to trigger a recount or machine recanvassing. That would mean 27,000 individual voters in order to force a recount in every election district. What’s more, the deadline for asking for recounts — short of demonstrable fraud or error — has passed in some districts and will have passed in every district by Tuesday.

The Stein campaign indicated Monday that it is mobilizing voters across the Keystone State and that the campaign would file a legal petition in state court on behalf of 100 Pennsylvania voters “to protect their right to substantively contest the election in Pennsylvania beyond the recounts” at the precinct level if those recounts uncover any irregularities.

Von Spakovsky said overcoming expired deadlines will be a heavy burden for recount supporters.

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“Usually, when it comes to election contests, they pretty much hold them to these deadlines,” he said.

Even if Stein managed to successfully navigate all of the rules and regulations in three different states, history suggests the chances of finding enough votes to overturn the election are vanishingly small. An analysis by FairVote found that the average margin in 22 statewide elections from 2000 to 2012 changed by less than .03 percentage points. The biggest shift was in the 2006 Vermont state auditor’s race, when a shift in the margin of .107 percentage points gave Democrat Thomas Salmon a 102-vote victory.

The outcome changed in only two extremely close races — the 2008 Senate race in Minnesota, and the 2004 governor’s race in Washington.

Engelbrecht said Stein’s recount drive is an obvious “political attempt to throw a monkey wrench into the works.” She said a better approach to improving the election system would be a full-fledged audit that would not only recount votes but also examine issues like the integrity of the voter rolls and the reliability of voting machines.

“Let’s call into question all aspects of the election,” she said.

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