The recount war: why Stein, Trump supporters are fighting out it in court

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein announced late Saturday she will ask a federal court to force a recount in Pennsylvania, while president-elect Donald Trump and his allies battle vote audits in Wisconsin and Michigan. 

Ben Brewer/Reuters
Ballots from the 2016 U.S. presidential election are recounted, following a request by the Green Party, in Madison, Wisconsin, Dec. 2, 2016.

As President-elect Donald Trump and his allies attempt to block recounts in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, Jill Stein will bring the battle over the “Rust Belt” to federal court.

The Green Party candidate and her lawyers said late Saturday night they will seek an emergency federal court order on Monday for a recount in Pennsylvania. The announcement came hours after Dr. Stein dropped a case in a Pennsylvania court because a state judge ordered the campaign post a $1 million bond for a statewide recount to proceed.

Recounts are underway in some Pennsylvania counties and in Wisconsin. They could begin in Michigan next week, barring court action.

It is highly unlikely the recounts will upend the results of the presidential election, as Hillary Clinton would need to win all three states to reverse Mr. Trump’s victory Nov. 8. But Stein’s efforts to audit the vote and the Trump side’s attempts to block it are shaping up to be a battle over the integrity of the election. Stein has said the recount is necessary to ensure “the integrity and accuracy of the vote,” suggesting voting machines were susceptible to hacking. Trump and his allies have called the recount effort a “scam,” saying it could undermine or call into the question the votes of millions.

The Green Party-backed efforts for a recount in these three states are in response to Trump winning the traditionally Democratic states by the slimmest of margins. Trump’s lead in Pennsylvania has shrunk to 49,000, from 71,000. That puts his lead at 0.8 percent there, down from over 1 percent, out of 6 million votes cast. In Michigan, Trump won with a margin of about 10,700 votes over Clinton. In Wisconsin, he won by a margin of roughly 22,000 votes over Clinton.

A victory in any of the three states are a key step to the White House. But Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, would have to have the results overturned in all three states in order to overturn Trump’s victory, an outcome Edward Foley, director of the Election Law Project at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, told The New York Times is “essentially zero or infinitesimal.”

While Clinton’s lead in the popular has extended to more than 2.5 million votes, according to the independent Cook Political Report, Trump won 306 of the necessary 270 electoral votes.

But Stein has said the recount effort is as much about ensuring “our votes are safe and secure.” These concerns have come after hackers accessed the emails of the Democratic National Committee and several Clinton staffers. US security officials have alleged Russian hackers orchestrated the email hacks, a charge Russia has denied.

But the Trump side has said recounts would do nothing but delegitimize the votes of millions of Americans. In Pennsylvania, lawyers for Trump and the state Republican Party argued there was no evidence, or even allegations, that tampering with the state voting system had occurred.

In Michigan, the Republican attorney general said recounting all of the state’s votes could remove Michigan's voice from the Electoral College, because the state must finalize its results by the Dec. 13 federal deadline.

“This court cannot allow a dilatory and frivolous request for a recount by an aggrieved party to silence all Michigan votes for president,” Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette wrote in a court filing on Friday, as reported by The New York Times.

Mr. Schuette, who is widely mentioned as a possible candidate for governor in 2018, filed a lawsuit Friday to halt the request for a recount in the state, which is expected to begin on Wednesday, after the state’s board of canvassers deadlocked 2-2 on Friday on a motion objecting to the recount.

Clinton’s campaign has said it would take part in recounts in Pennsylvania to ensure her campaign is legally represented. It said it would do the same if necessary in Michigan and Pennsylvania.  

As the Stein and Trump camps battle out the recounts in court, J. Alex Halderman, who suggested the idea of a recount in a post on Medium on Nov. 23, said it could be a good thing, even if it reveals nothing.

“Examining the physical evidence in these states  –  even if it finds nothing amiss  –  will help allay doubt and give voters justified confidence that the results are accurate,” wrote Dr. Halderman, director of the University of Michigan Center for Computer Security and Society.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters. 

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