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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet. 

The Green Party, led by its nominee Jill Stein, will file for presidential recounts in three states that gave Donald Trump his Electoral College majority—Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania—if they can raise the filing fees and legal costs, the party said Wednesday.

The first filing deadline is Friday. The Green Party would be expected to pay approximately $1 million to Wisconsin election officials and file legal documents saying what was suspect, to formally start the process in a state where Trump is ahead of Hillary Clinton by 27,000 votes. The party has set up a page on its website to crowdsource the funding, which may cost upward of $2 million per state to execute.

“After a divisive and painful presidential race, reported hacks into voter and party databases and individual email accounts are causing many American to wonder if our election results are reliable,” Stein said. “These concerns need to be investigated before the 2016 presidential election is certified. We deserve elections we can trust.”

“After seeing compelling evidence of voting anomalies, the Stein/Baraka Green Party Campaign is launching an effort to ensure the integrity of our elections,” the website donation page says. “With your help, are are raising money to demand recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania—three states where the data suggests significant discrepancies in vote totals.”

“This effort to ensure election integrity is in your hands! We need to raise over $2 million by this Friday, 4pm central,” it continues.”In true grassroots fashion, we’re turning to you, the people, and not big-money corporate donors to make this happen.”

The top donation Stein’s website can take is $2,700 under federal campaign law. The Green Party of Ohio is also setting up a page to accept donations of up to $10,000, the limit for state parties, which will be used for the filings in Michigan and Wisconsin. It is possible a progressive super PAC may step in to raise money for Pennsylvania, which is legal under that state’s citizen-led process.

The Greens face a steep challenge and fast-approaching deadlines to raise the funds needed file for official recounts, which will be $1 million apiece for Wisconsin and Michigan, where the filing deadlines are Friday and next Monday, respectively, and an estimated $500,000 for Pennsylvania, where the filing deadline is next Wednesday. The associated legal costs are expected to be equal to these state filing fees, because each state has different thresholds to meet to move ahead with the recounts.

“The reason why we need to have recounts 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,” said John Bonifaz, attorney and National Voting Rights Institute founder, who represented the Green and Libertarian parties in their 2004 Ohio presidential recount and has been coordinating 2016 recount efforts.

“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,” he said. “The candidates who are on the ballot in Michigan and Wisconsin can call for the recount. In Pennsylvania, voter can, and 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,” Bonifaz continued. “There were anomalies that occurred on Election Day and those give rise to the basis of why we need to verify the vote.”

Why ReCount?

The decision to file for a recount comes after a week of frenzied behind-the-scenes action to try to verify the votes in the presidential swing states that gave Donald Trump an Electoral College majority. Media reports on Monday revealed that Bonifaz and University of Michigan computer science professor J. Alex Halderman last Thursday had briefed top Clinton campaign officials about the basis for filing a recount. That prompted many news reports in the past 24 hours suggesting that the Clinton campaign was focusing on a possible recount, when actually, it appears that the Clinton team studied the evidence and declined to go forward for several likely reasons.

First, the Clinton campaign would need to be declared the winner in all three states to emerge with the presidency, which is far from certain. Second, the campaign’s participation would ignite a political firestorm at the same time Clinton had been making statements accepting her loss. It appears that her senior staff either did not think the basis for a recount was strong enough or felt they would wait and see what happens as the Greens initiate the effort. That is, they could get involved if the results are poised to change.

In contrast, the Greens have a record of pursuing election integrity issues for their own sake. In 2004, the Green Party, along with the Libertarian Party, led the recount effort in Ohio, despite the Democratic Party distancing itself from that effort. In 2016, the voting rights attorneys and electronic voting machine experts behind the recount effort see patterns in the unofficial counts that raise questions about its accuracy. Their goal is not only to determine if Trump was the winner in these states, but to understand where his actual supporters are and to highlight the often-unreliable machinery used to count votes.

“Assuring the validity of our vote is a critical first step toward democratizing our elections,” Stein said Wednesday. “Other essential steps include ending discriminatory voter ID laws and voter purges (like Interstate Crosscheck); opening the debates to all candidates on the ballot in enough states to win the election; establishing Ranked Choice Voting, a system that enables voters to rank their choices, knowing that if their first choice loses, their vote is automatically reassigned to their second choice; and getting big money out of politics and letting the people back in.”

The recount team has identified a series of anomalies that go beyond the discrepancies in media exit polls predicting a Clinton victory on November 8 and subsequent vote counts where Trump won states that have not backed Republican presidents for decades. They raise questions that recounts could clarify or verify, such as whether vote-counting apparatus malfunctioned or several different forms of electronic hacking could have padded state voter rolls and altered resulting counts.

“Were this year’s deviations from pre-election polls the results of a cyberattack?” Halderman wrote Tuesday, to clarify what he believes is worth looking at. “Probably not. I believe the most likely explanation is that the polls were systematically wrong, rather than that the election was hacked. But I don’t believe that either one of these seemingly unlikely explanations is overwhelmingly more likely than the other. The only way to know whether a cyberattack changed the result is to closely examine the available physical evidence — paper ballots and voting equipment in critical states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, nobody is ever going to examine that evidence unless candidates in those states act now, in the next several days, to petition for recounts.”

The timing of the recount announcement was delayed this week because its organizers were exploring whether they could rely on a mix of large donations and crowdsourced funding. It appears some potential big donors were following the Clinton campaign’s cues and not stepping forward as hoped. The focus then turned to setting up fundraising, legal and organizing operations.

What follows are summaries of the scenarios and states the recount team has been studying, starting with provocative vote counts, their theories and then hurdles faced if a recount is filed.

Wisconsin

Election night’s unofficial returns found Trump ahead of Clinton by 27,000 votes. But Trump’s margins of victory appeared to be concentrated in counties using electronic voting systems rather than counties using paper ballots that were scanned and counted.   Clinton only won counties using the paper ballots, the computer voting experts said. In the counties using a mix of electronic and paper-based voting systems that President Obama won in 2012, Clinton lost by 1 to 2 percent. In the counties Obama won using the paperless machines, she lost by 10 to 15 percent. (Five percent of the state’s 4.6 million voters, or 230,000 people, cast their ballots on paperless machines, state officials said last week.)

Some independent analysts have also found what they say are improbably high voter turnout figures in rural counties that went strongly for Trump. In 12 rural counties, the turnout was 86 percent of registered voters or more, a very high figure. “Either these voter turnout percentages are an historic achievement, unparalleled in my experience, or the unofficial results are not true and correct,” wrote Richard Hayes Phillips, a PhD who conducted similar analyses following the 2004 presidential election in Ohio.

On Monday, academics and election integrity activists posted screenshots from two Wisconsin counties showing more than 4,000 votes than ballots cast had been added to county totals. In one of those counties, local news reports said the clerk made an error manually adding up the figures.

Wisconsin also saw a record numbers of absentee ballots, with 831,000 ballots cast, about 30 percent of this fall’s vote. In past years, it was about 20 percent. Of that overall amount, about 134,000 were from people who mailed them in, instead of turning them in at polling places, state officials said. Those pursuing the recount want to ensure these ballots are all legitimate.

Michigan

Election Night’s unofficial returns found Trump ahead by 11,000 votes. But the Associated Press reported that 87,000 ballots did not show a presidential vote, which the election integrity team said was suspicious and broke a 49,000 empty-vote record from past presidential elections. A recount could clarify if all those ballots were improperly read by the state’s optical scan voting systems, in which computers process ink-marked paper ballots. They also would like to verify absentee ballots, as 25 percent of the state voted by mail. (Last week, Michigan Secretary of State Spokesman Fred Woodham dismissed the 2016 missing-vote figure, saying it came from the Associated Press in New York City, not his office, and was not credible.)

Filing for a Michigan recount would present other big hurdles for the Greens. The state has the nation’s most local election jurisdictions, with 1,500 local clerks managing 4,800 precincts. That underscores how large an undertaking a recount in Michigan would be. The state would charge the Greens up to $125 per precinct to recount the presidential vote.

Pennsylvania

Election Night returns found Trump beating Clinton here by 68,000 votes. The state mostly uses older electronic voting machines with no paper trail (unlike Wisconsin, where a cash register-like paper receipt is printed). The concern is that 16 counties are still using aging countywide tabulators, which Finnish computer security specialist Harry Hursti has shown can be easily hacked to change the reported results. These computers use old versions of Microsoft operating systems, which have security vulnerabilities that have never been fixed.

In Pennsylvania, the secretary of state can order a recount or it’s possible to initiate one on a precinct-by-precinct basis, as long as a petition is prepared with at least three electors for that jurisdiction, said Marybeth Kuznik of VotePA.us, and a $50 per precinct fee is paid. The window for that petition, however, is within the five days after the counties complete their official canvass. In rural counties, that is quickly approaching.

Next Steps?

The Greens and their election integrity team understand that any recounts will require the assembling of the necessary funds and infrastructure under an extremely tight timeframe. They know their efforts may not pan out, but feel they have no choice but to try to find ways to explain what happened on November 8, especially in states where what they see doesn’t seem right based on their years of tracking the machinery of elections.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights, campaigns and elections, and many social justice issues. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).
IMAGE: @ElectProject, via Twitter
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